Counties Manukau First XV final
Wesley v Manurewa
ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe
Playing the Counties Manukau schools final on the Sabbath is proving problematic as several players are ruled out of both the Wesley and Manurewa First XVs due to their religious beliefs.
That may give Manurewa an edge, though they will enter as underdogs, having finished second in the regular season and facing up to a Wesley outfit that has won an incredible 21 of the last 23 titles.
Manurewa carved out an 8-1 record this season, and will seek to emulate the teams of 2011-12, which toppled Wesley for the championship. The two sides clashed in a televised clash on June 20, with Wesley prevailing 17-13 in terrible conditions. But that will count for little on Sunday.
Manurewa is missing two boys due to their religious beliefs, and one other who may be late back from the volleyball nationals, meaning captain and regular halfback Haupeke Brown will; have to shift to No 10. He will again kick the goals.
Coach Deon Wagner says Manurewa is happy to take the underdog tag, though he admits the preparation has been far from perfect. Both schools cancelled their final round match against each other last weekend, partly due to a large injury toll, but also because there was little need for the fixture as they were both so far ahead of the third-placed side, Rosehill, on the table.
"Our training, though, has been really good, and it's the last game for our No 8 Viliami Taulani, after three years. About half of our team are leaving school at the end of the year, so it's an emotional time," said Wagner.
Taulani is the kingpin of a solid pack with a good scrum. He carries strongly and is in the sights of selectors higher up.
Manurewa have not racked up cricket scores during the season, barring a 64-5 win over Pukekohe, showing the Counties Manukau competition has more parity these days.
"The likes of Rosehill and Alfriston stepped up big time against us, so we had to work for our wins," said Wagner.
There is mutual respect between Manurewa and Wesley, and both will have empathy with the issues of players not being available on a Sunday.
"The boys are coming along alright, though it's a bit weird having a final on a Sunday,"
said Wesley coach David Faitala. "We are quietly confident, but they know the threat that Manurewa poses if we aren't on our game."
Faitala will be forced to use a reduced bench due to the no play stance, and he cannot whistle up Second XV members, as they play in the Counties Manukau premier competition alongside the First XV. That will strain resources. Inspirational captain No 8 Fui Asomua is out, as his is brother prop Sua Asomua. A lot will rest on the shoulders of first five Adam Pompey, who slots the goals and runs the cutter.
Wesley are a dangerous squad when their tails are up, and they have put 40+ on their opponents on four occasions in 2015.
Faitala says he and his management team do not focus too much on the recent winning legacy.
"We try and make our own legacy as a group of young men. Our boys are insular, so it's about managing them rather than adding to the pressure."
The decider will be the curtainraiser to the Counties Manukau-Manawatu ITM Cup.
Last season Wesley prevailed 30-10 in the final, and 29-11 in 2013.