An old hand and a fresh face have helped take Hutt Old Boys' Marist to the brink of the Jubilee Cup semifinals.
A few months back the injury-hit Eagles were struggling to make Wellington club rugby's second round, eventually scraping through in seventh place with six wins and five losses in the Swindale Shield.
That's all changed over the first month of the Jubilee Cup, coach Matt Lee's side producing four close wins to share the top of the points table with Wainuiomata heading into round five of the Jubilee Cup today.
Lee says the arrival of former St Kentigern College first XV coach Josh Syms at the end of the first round and the return of captain and openside Jason Risdon have had a major impact.
"Jason's on-field leadership has made a big difference, the boys really follow him. He was away getting married and getting over a few niggles and since he's come back things have really fallen into place," Lee said.
"He's been winning that breakdown battle and [coaches] Josh and Adam [Campbell] have fixed a few things at the breakdown and with our inside defence. Josh has also been with the Southland Stags and he's brought in a few new ideas."
Throw in the experienced old head of prop Otto Rasch, the accurate boot of utility Glen Walters who scored 31 points against Marist St Pats last week, the pace of wing/first five-eighth Chase Tiatia and the timely return of New Zealand under-20s hooker James O'Reilly and it appears Hutt are finding their feet at the right end of the season.
However, Lee is quick to pour cold water on any suggestion the side has found the right formula.
Wins over Old Boys University (30-27), Petone (20-17), Upper Hutt (12-11) and MSP (36-26) all could have tipped the other way.
"We haven't played that perfect 80 minutes yet. We play in patches, we had the thriller over Upper Hutt in the first round where we came from way behind and there are still lapses in concentration at crucial times now, so we're trying to patch that up."
Lee says his side's close results mirror a Jubilee Cup semifinal race that's wide open with three rounds to play.
Below HOBM and Wainui, four points separates third-placed Old Boys University (10) and the Upper Hutt Rams at the bottom of the log.
Lee is expecting another close-fought match today against a desperate Oriental-Rongotai side, which has just one win, but still firmly in the race for the top four.
"It's not so good for the coaching staff, but there is a positive to the close wins. Guys like Otto are very good on field leaders. The talk is always positive they are all pushing each other.
"We know Ories will be very desperate. They're a regular top four side. We're expecting a very hard game. In this round I think any team can make the top four and anyone can beat anyone. Upper Hutt showed last week [when they beat Petone], they're not a bad team either. It's a good competition."
In other matches, defending champions Tawa can ill-afford another slip-up when they host Marist St Pats.
Likewise, Petone will be need to beat Wainui to keep their hopes alive and likewise Upper Hutt will need another upset when they play OBU at the Basin Reserve.
AT A GLANCE
What: Today's draw (games at 3pm unless stated)
Jubilee Cup: Old Boys University v Upper Hutt Rams, Basin Reserve; Oriental-Rongotai v Hutt Old Boys' Marist, Polo Ground; Petone v Wainuiomata, Petone Rec; Tawa v Marist St Pats, Lyndhurst Park.
Hardham Cup: Old Boys University B v Paremata-Plimmerton, Basin Reserve (1.15pm); Johnsonville v Marist St Pats B, Helston Park; Northern United v Poneke, Porirua Park; Wellington v Avalon, Hataitai Park.
- The Dominion Post
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