Rugby: Bombay enter final as favourites

By Campbell Burnes

Piers Francis of the Blues is on the bench for Bombay. Photo / Getty Images.
Piers Francis of the Blues is on the bench for Bombay. Photo / Getty Images.

Bombay enter tomorrow's Counties Manukau premier club rugby final for the McNamara Cup as favourites and seeking a three-peat.

Standing in their way are Ardmore-Marist who, like the Hurricanes, have not tasted defeat since May 7, and have reeled off nine consecutive victories after a poor start to the season.

It is Jeff Marr's experienced Bombay side against Saua Leaupepetele's young yet talented Ardmore-Marist side, who have shown character and resilience, especially in last weekend's last gasp 14-13 win over first round winners Karaka.

Bombay have won five titles, including the last two Counties Manukau championships, but no club has won more than two on the bounce since the great Manurewa side of 1990-95, which annexed six consecutive McNamara Cups.

Coach Jeff Marr knows his history, but also knows Bombay have come through an at times difficult season to earn the chance to again be champions.

"That 20-year history-making feat would be pretty awesome to achieve," says Marr. "This season we've suffered, and I think Ardmore-Marist have been in the same boat, with players being away in rep teams and international duty and other guys with different things.

"But we've been steadily getting better and better in the last 4-5 weeks. It's when you want to be peaking."

A top first half helped see off Pukekohe 31-16 in last weekend's semifinal, where Bombay showed control and composure. They'll need all that tomorrow against a side that beat them 25-17 four weeks ago.

"They played well that day, have had a great run and deserve to be in the final. They have a young, talented group, but we will shade them in the experience stakes," Marr says, adding that "90 percent" of his group are back from the 2015 final.

Missing just his Chiefs boys in threequarters Toni Pulu and Sam Vaka, Marr will call on Blues five-eighths Piers Francis via the bench. Francis has already played three times for the club in 2016. No 10 Ki Anufe, who has already played for Samoa, is starting to stand tall with his allround play and kicking, and he combines well with halfback Liam Daniela.

Watch out for left wing Sepu Taufa, who may be pushing for Steelers selection, that Mitre 10 Cup squad to be named after the final. Second Pat Masoe has shown his ability at getting over the gainline.

Delivering the ball to this backline will be an industrious and big forward pack, with 146kg tighthead prop Kalolo Tuiloma leading the way, and Steelers loosehead Sam Aiono, hooker Sean Muir, lock Matiaha Martin and flankers Josh Allan and Hamiora Clarke providing the glue. The skipper is No 8 Ben Masoe, who has played for Auckland and Manu Samoa. Masoe has lifted the last two McNamara Cups for Bombay.

Marr says there is excitement and motivation, and certainly no complacency.

"It's like Shield games. You have to go out and win it. It's not ours to defend."

Ardmore-Marist, champions in 2013 and thrice before that, have plenty of reasons for giving a big performance. It is the 20th year of the two clubs merging, and they have three teams in finals: the premiers, reserves and Under 85s.

The premiers placed just sixth at the completion of the Challenge Cup first round, but have played winning rugby ever since those uncertain early days.

"We really haven't changed much in regards to our game plan. We had five or six out with injury at the start of the year. On the flip side, it created opportunities for other boys. But they've shown real belief and perseverance in the last nine weeks in do or die games," says Ardmore-Marist coach Saua Leaupepetele.

He says that there will be little chance of taking too much out of the recent defeat of Bombay, as the latter are big on video analysis and will have worked out ways to combat his team. They will have to come up with something new to stay one step ahead of the favourites.

"Everyone's just been excited around the club and in the community this week, particularly around having three teams in finals."

We may yet hear the cry of 'Ardy, Ardy, Ardy!' go up around ECOLight Stadium.
The Counties Manukau B coach has had the luxury of fielding an unchanged starting XV for the first time this season, and it means the bench will offer some serious impact.

Captained from fullback by Lolohea Loco, Ardmore-Marist's halves are the talented duo of Luteru Laulala and Jonathan Taumateine, not long back from the New Zealand Under 20s' campaign. They can both kick goals, as can Lu's brother Ray, who will enter from the bench, as will young Bradford Lemalufai'tonga, who has made a good fist of his rookie premier club season.

The pack can call on the likes of Steelers hooker Suliasi Taufalele and lock Viliame Rarasea, while centurion prop Jeremiah Fatialofa will be injected in the second stanza.
"They are an eight that work hard for each other," says Leaupepetele.

Whether that is good enough for a 10th victory on the trot and the coveted silverware remains to be seen.

Counties Manukau premier club final: Bombay v Ardmore-Marist
McNamara Cup
ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe, 2.45pm

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