All the regional finals are done and dusted and the big question heading into this weekend's national Top 4 tournament in Palmerston North is: who can stop Hastings BHS?
The Hawke's Bay school, unbeaten all season, and Super 8 champions, won their Hurricanes final comprehensively, 40-14 over Wellington champions Wellington College.
They scored six tries, including a brace to wing Dennon Robinson, and now take their 17-0 record into Top 4 for the first time since 2004.
There they will face fellow Super 8 finalists and four-time national champs Hamilton BHS, who edged Rotorua BHS 26-24 to clinch the Chiefs title. That will be Friday's second semifinal, televised from 2.55pm.
The other major (televised) semifinal sees MAGS take on South Island champions Southland BHS at 1.10pm. The Auckland winners found the going tough before edging Westlake BHS, who defended stoutly, 13-8, thanks to tries by Niven Longopoa and Patrick Pati. MAGS will be favoured to advance to the final, especially if they can bring their A game, which has not always been the case in recent weeks.
But Southland BHS clinched the South Island championship in some style, dispatching Christchurch BHS 41-20. Led by hooker Flynn Thomas, a 2015 NZ Schools rep, the boys from the deep south have reached the Top 4 for the first time since 2003 and must be respected.
In the co-ed championship, the Blues champions are Auckland's Aorere, but only just. They drew 16-all with Massey, but advanced having scored the game's first try. That might be a tough call on a valiant Massey, but there is no provision for extra time in schoolboy rugby due to player welfare considerations.
The game itself was very evenly contested, though the home side Aorere had the edge in the scrums and had fullback Mosese Pepa, the man of the match, who scored two fine individual tries. Massey scored two nice tries of their own, to fullback Mac Pisi and flanker Nathan Va'atausili. But if a pass to Pisi in the first minute had not travelled forward, then Massey would have been winging their way to Top 4 this weekend.
There was some confusion at the fulltime whistle before Aorere could celebrate.
Aorere will now face South Island co-ed champs Burnside in Friday's semifinals. The other semi pits St Peter's of Cambridge against Feilding, the 2015 Top 4 co-ed finalists. St Peter's won the Chiefs ticket by defeating Manurewa 25-17. Impressive lock Laghlan McWhannell scored a try, but some solid second half defence was the major factor in St Peter's' victory.
The national Top 4 championship will play for the Barbarian Cup, while the national co-ed is played for the Barbarian Trophy. The NZ Barbarians club, which fosters schoolboy rugby, is the long-time major sponsor of the tournament. Club President and former All Black Ron Williams will present the trophies to the champions on Sunday.
The Top 4 girls' championship will be played on Friday and Sunday just down the road at Central Energy Trust Arena. The semifinals see Kaipara face Southland GHS and Hamilton GHS versus St Mary's of Wellington. Hamilton GHS are the defending champs.
MAGS 13 Westlake BHS 8
Blues co-ed final:
Aorere 16 (Mosese Pepa 2 tries; JP Ngatoko 2 pen) Massey 16 (Mac Pisi, Nathan Va'atausili tries; Miracle Naititi 2 pen) HT: 6-5 Massey
*Aorere advance to the Top 4 by virtue of scoring the first try of the match.
Hamilton BHS 26 Rotorua BHS 24
Chiefs co-ed final:
St Peter's (Cambridge) 25 Manurewa 17
Hastings BHS 40 Wellington 14
Hurricanes co-ed final:
Feilding 31 Wairarapa 15
South Island final:
Southland BHS 41 Christchurch BHS 20
South Island co-ed final:
Burnside HS 20 South Otago HS 14