You can say many things about this current bunch of Billygoats, but one thing is for sure: they play when it counts. The Premier side took Ories to task, while for the second year running the Colts annihilated the top qualifier, this time Norths, to make the final. Also through to their ‘big dance’ are the OBU Impalas, after winning their semi-final in the Women’s Division Two competition. With three teams competing, that gives OBU the equal-most teams involved at the Petone Rec. The focus here is on the Premier side, but the other teams can be assured of strong support come Saturday.
SEMI-FINAL: OBU 34 – ORIES 19
(W. Mangos, M. Fowler, D. Candy, T. Neli, I. Foa’I tries; G. Mullany 3C, 1P)
The tough decision to shift the game to a neutral, dry venue was made to look a masterstroke as the Goats produced clinical, consistent rugby for 70mins to shut Ories out.
Coach Jamie Williams summed it up, saying it was “the best 70 minutes we’ve played all year”. Ories applied early pressure, with the breeze, camping on the OBU line for over three minutes. If anything this spurred the Goats on, smashing into oncoming attackers with energy and enthusiasm.
Ories were the first to blink, conceding possession inside the Goats’ 22 and the ‘home’ side took advantage. A scything run from left wing Te Wehi Wright took them upfield, then lovely interplay between the low and high numbers got OBU to within 5m. From there, the forwards did what their opposition couldn’t: showed patience and body position for Wellington Lion Will Mangos to cross the chalk.
Another kickoff error saw Ories pour onto attack again. This time a rolling maul set up from phase-play saw them level the scores.
The game was in the balance when a nice kick return from Sam Reid set the platform for Dale Sabbagh to pick-and-go through half a hole. Captain Jonathan Fuimaono linked up, found Wright who scorched past three defenders. In the tackle of a fourth, he unloaded to halfback Matt Fowler who sprinted under the black dot.
By now, OBU were well into their work. They mixed aggressive forward running in the tight with some lovely passing to find space out wide. Crucially, they were operating at a speed Ories simply couldn’t contain. They found themselves inside the Ories 22 again, right on halftime, and this time outstanding openside Daven Candy was the beneficiary.
The Goats turned with the breeze at their back, knowing an early score will kill of the Magpies’ chances. They attacked relentlessly close to the rucks, finding more success and earning a penalty and yellow card for the opposition.
Before long, the Ories defence was out of puff. A passive defensive line is never an option against OBU in this mood as Teariki Ben-Nicholas and Mangos thrived, busting up the middle numerous times. Returning rookie Tai “Happy Feet” Neli showed finishing prowess to score in the corner, while midfield weapon Izzy Foa’i proved he is impossible to stop close to the line for the fifth time this season.
To their credit, Ories played until the 80th minute, scoring two late tries to tighten the scores, but spectators were left with little doubt as to who deserved the spot in the final.
For the Goats, left wing Wright (pictured) was unbelievable. He constantly provided impetus for his side with jinking runs and genuine pace. Wellington reps Ben-Nicholas and Mangos lived up to their billing as game-breakers, bending the Ories line all day, while Zeke Sopoaga was industrious.
OBU v Norths – JUBILEE CUP FINAL PREVIEW
If the boys from the Cambridge Hotel need inspiration for this fixture, they should look no further than what Norths have achieved this year. Not only have they beaten OBU both at home (50 – 45) and away (13 – 10), and in sunshine and mud, but they’ve shorn the Goats of the Bill Brien Trophy, Andy Leslie Trophy, and the Swindale Shield. Owing to this, Norths will deservedly carry the favourites tag on Saturday.
It’s been seven years since powerhouse Norths have made the Jubilee Cup decider. However, they are no strangers to the event having qualified for it every year between 2008 – 2011, winning in 2008 (shared) and 2010. Interestingly for Goat fans, retired legend Tomasi Palu played for Norths in the 2009 final but won titles with OBU in 2015 and 2017.
As mentioned, Norths qualified top after the Jubilee Cup round earning them hosting rights against Hutt Old Boys Marist last weekend. In lovely conditions, they were made to work hard initially as the Eagles held them to 19 – 19 at the halfway mark. But Norths are relentless, and they ground HOBM down to run away with it in the second half to win 41 – 26.
More exciting for the Porirua faithful is the quality of players they have available to them this week. First-five Jackson Garden-Bachop (pictured) was on standby for the Hurricanes last weekend and unable to play in their semi-final. He will face no such issues this week. Rumours are also swirling that All Black halfback TJ Perenara will also put on his club colours, although it may not be in the number 9 jersey. This is in addition to Wellington Lions Chris Middleton and Du’Plessis Kirifi, Wellington 7s star Esi Komaisavai, and ex-Super Rugby player Faifili Levave.
On the other side of the coin, OBU will back themselves. Finals football is a different beast and OBU have won the last two finals they’ve played. Further, the Goats have recent success in the final whereas Norths is back from seven years in the wilderness. In terms of player experience, only captain Parekura Lalaga and (potentially) Perenara return from their 2010 success. Conversely, OBU have 11 players who won the Jubilee last year, or 14 if you include the coaching staff.
The referee is Richard Gordon, in his fourth consecutive final. The Goats will like that he adjudicated their wins in 2015 and 2017, but will also be conscious of the fact they’ve lost 3/4 games under him this year (Swindale: Tawa and Norths; Jubilee: Poneke). Norths have won 2/3, but he also officiated in their last loss – an 82nd minute 37 – 33 loss to Ories.
The forecast is predicting rain which really favours neither side. Norths have the bigger pack, with OBU more skilful in the forwards, suggesting rain helps Norths. But Norths constantly play in beautiful conditions at Jerry Collins Stadium, whereas OBU are more accustomed to heavy conditions at Nairnville, suggesting OBU should have greater knowledge of how to play. The bottom line is: both teams prefer to run the ball, and will be hoping for any inclement weather to stay away.
*These are assumed and based on any information we have
Lock: Agustin Escalona (OBU) vs. Chris Middleton (Norths)
These two provide some real grunt in the engine room for both their teams, and will be crucial to getting their team on the front foot.
For OBU, Escalona has been a pillar of strength all season. There are three things guaranteed in life; death, taxes, and the fact that Augy will make 15+ tackles in a game. In a nice juxtaposition, Escalona is known for crushing oncoming attackers, and then grinning at them at the next scrum. He currently leads the internal MVP standings, and will be at short odds to win the title if the Goats get up. Work-rate personified.
Opposing him is Chris Middleton. He played for the Lions last year and is a menace around the rucks and at lineout time. OBU need no reminder of the latter fact as he stole the lineout that cost them a chance to win their Swindale Shield encounter, and then managed to steal half of their lineouts in the Jubilee Cup match. He enjoys engaging in the verbal battle, and will secure any kickoff headed his way. A key figure.
Openside Flanker: Daven Candy (OBU) vs. Du’Plessis Kirifi (Norths)
The match-up of the year. Period.
Daven Candy might be the most unlucky / overlooked player in Wellington Rugby. In a year marred by injury, he has added to OBU’s game immensely when available. Incredible over the ball, with lovely quick feet and passing, and defence that belies his frame, there is a reason he was OBU’s MVP last year. Ask any OBU supporter and there is no doubt he should be playing rep rugby. Keep an eye out for his offload and him ranging in the wide channels; he scored two tries in the final last year doing exactly that. He has an axe to grind after Kirifi beat him in the Jubilee Cup round.
Kirifi, by contrast, is in his first full season in Wellington after shifting from Waikato in search of representative rugby. He is a beast. He single-handedly turns games with his fetching abilities and ball carrying. A smart player who knows his game, Kirifi strives to win the race to the breakdown. If he gets there first, he wins the ball – simple. He will feature in the Lions this year, and likely Super Rugby before long.
First-five: Greg Mullany (OBU) vs. Jackson Garden-Bachop (Norths)
The Cook Island international against the Maori All Black will likely dictate who wins the Jubilee Cup.
Since returning from Poneke, Mullany has been a driving force behind OBU’s success this season. While accomplished on attack and defence (ask MSP’s Matt Peni), it’s his organisation, game management, and rugby IQ that provides the most value for OBU. Softly spoken off-field, Mullany comes alive on the park, directing play and constantly taking quality options. If there’s a chink in the Norths armour, watch for him to expertly bust it open. He will also have the goal-kicking duties, which is always crucial in finals footy.
Similarly, Garden-Bachop is Norths’ architect. He played in their 50 – 45 win over OBU and came up with four try assists through cross-kicks, soft passes, grubbers, and linebreaks from his running game. Now an established Lion, he has the temperament for big occasions kicking his Mitre 10 Cup team to wins off the tee. If he gets into rhythm, Norths will win.
Time out with outstanding OBU lock/flanker Will Mangos
William Mangos turned up at OBU in 2016 slightly unheralded. He’d been playing for University in the Waikato competition, and completing a Masters in Economics from the University of Waikato. Physically, he looked like Action-Man but many were unsure whether that equated to on-field ability.
Fast forward to the current day, and he’s arguably the best player in the Wellington region. He’s won a championship for the Lions, won a Jubilee Cup and two Swindale Shields, and played for the Hurricanes in the Brisbane Tens. His long, loping strides in space are now a familiar sight for the OBU faithful, alongside brutal big hits. The man known simply by his last name was kind enough to give us his time.
How does Wellington club rugby compare to the Waikato equivalent? You played for University up there too, do they play a similar brand?
WM: A big difference is Wellington has a bigger player base and a bit more competition, with better teams. Whereas in Waikato, there’s only 10 premier teams and only half of them are really competitive. Conditions are different as well. Up there it’s generally wetter and fields aren’t quite as good for playing on so it tends to be a slower game, but the physicality is the same. They don’t play as structured as us [OBU]; they have adopted more of an offload game so they can go through periods of being good and bad.
As a senior member of the OBU side, what moments and players stick out for you here? Do you have a favourite player?
WM: I came in after we’d just won the Jubilee [in 2015] and we went on a 19-game streak so that was cool to be in a really dominant side – there was a real feeling of superiority, and that mindset has been carried through I think. For players, while he was here, Ian Kennedy was pretty big on and off the field. In terms of talent, the one the really slipped through was Teegan Minkley – he was outstanding. I can’t really say one favourite. This year Agustin has been huge, Tomasi when available was massive, and I think Te Wehi is an awesome player to have in the backline, in terms of experience and ability.
Turning to this week, Norths will be fired up to be back in a final. Where do you think they’ll back themselves on Saturday?
WM: I think the reason they’re strong is that they’ve developed dimensions to their game. It’d be easy to say “the big ball-runners crashing it up” but they’ve got strengths out wide and playmakers who set off their decent backline. So they’re good, all over the park.
For the first time, perhaps in your entire OBU career, we’re the clear underdogs. Does that matter to you, or the team?
WM: If anything, I think it’s a blessing to come in underrated. It doesn’t mean anything to me, and I think most of the boys have the feeling we can beat them and be really dominant. It felt like that last week and it’s felt like that throughout the year at various times. If we keep that confidence up, we’ll be fine. This week is different, there’s a lot more riding on it, so it should be good.
Finally, three key things that we need to do to win a third Jubilee in four years?
WM: One, stopping their big ball runners from making gainline. Also, really securing our set piece. I think we can really pressure them there, and that will be huge for us in giving us a platform to work from. Finally, getting our structure right. Playing wide, or playing tight, and doing whatever the situation demands.