Sopoaga leads powerful Wellington College pack

TIM BARTON
Last updated 09:37 02/05/2012
Zek Sopoaga
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ
POWERHOUSE: Wellington College prop Eti Sului is a menacing sight with the ball in hand against Napier Boys' High.

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The family baton has been passed to Zek Sopoaga, who has become the third brother to captain the Wellington College First XV.

He follows elder brothers Lima and Tupou, who led the side in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Zek will lead a formidable pack that is likely to ensure that Wellington College will again be the benchmark side in the premier one competition.

The secondary schools rugby season gets under way this weekend, with last year's premier one semifinalists – Wellington College, St Pat's Silverstream, St Pat's Town and Rongotai – contesting the Williment Trophy and guaranteed places in premier one.

Sixteen other teams have a chance to grab one of the last four spots in premier one, over three weeks of grading games.

Wellington College has won the competition in seven of the past eight years.

They did not dominate last year and went into the final against Silverstream as underdogs, but still grabbed the title.

Seven forwards from the 2011 squad, including five who started the final, are back this year, and the front row looks particularly strong.

Sopoaga played as a loosehead prop last winter, but will switch to hooker this year, with 2011 Hurricanes schoolboys representative Eti Sului at tighthead and Vincent Sakaria at loosehead.

"We should have a pretty formidable scrum," Wellington coach Lincoln Rawles said. "We basically have three props in the front row – they are all over 100 kilograms – and they know what they are doing, although both Zek and Eti have actually slimmed down a bit from last year."

Locks James Blackwell and Elijah Williams-Stewart return and year-12 Ben Tuiomanufili can cover both lock and loose forward.

Blackwell, who is also in the cricket XI, should be a big influence at lineouts.

Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who has excelled as a discus thrower, will add to the depth at lock in the squad. "He's a year 12, but the tallest in the side and a pretty talented young man," Rawles said.

Luke Taualupe, whose size belies his youth, started at No8 last winter, as a year 11.

"Luke had an incredible season last year, for a year 11," Rawles said. "He's maturing well and we are looking for bigger and better things this season."

Flanker James Prescott, another member of last year's starting lineup, has been sidelined by injury, but the side still has five forwards in the Wellington Rugby Union's high-performance schools group.

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Luke Campbell, the backup halfback to Carne Green last season, will be the main goal kicker this year and scored 20 points, including two tries, when Wellington beat Napier Boys' High School last weekend.

Pakaitore Turia, who was sidelined by a knee injury last year, will be at first five-eighth, with Wes Goosen, who made the starting lineup last year, as a year 11, a key figure at second five-eighth. "He [Goosen] is a very good prospect, with a great work ethic," Rawles said.

Wellington had a surprise loss to Hastings Boys' in a warmup game, but have taken a couple of good scalps since in Palmerston North Boys' and Napier.

Sides are rarely at full strength for pre-season games, when different combinations are trialled, but there was still encouragement for Wellington. "We should have a decent side," Rawles said.

Wellington will meet Silverstream in the Williment Trophy on Saturday, with St Pat's Town taking on Rongotai.

Silverstream lost only one match – the premier one final – in Wellington last year, but most of the 2011 squad have left school.

"We have got a relatively young side, but we won't be using that as an excuse," Silverstream coach Rob Ackerman said.

"We are looking forward to testing ourselves against a very strong Wellington College side."

Silverstream lost a pre-season game against Feilding High School, but have since beaten Rotorua Boys' High School and an Upper Hutt under-20 side. "We have got better with each game," Ackerman said.

Hooker Andy Knight will captain the side and Dylan Hayes, who can cover flanker and lock, will be an influential forward. Second five-eighth Haize Alatipi will be a key player in the backline.

Ackerman, a former Christ's College coach, is in his first season with Silverstream. He played rugby and league at a high level, representing Wales at both codes and touring New Zealand with the 1983 British Lions.

The winners of the four grading pools will complete the premier one lineup.

THE POOLS:

Pool A: Naenae, St Bernard's, Newlands and Paraparaumu. Pool B: Hutt Valley, Tawa, Scots and Bishop Viard. Pool C: Hutt International, Porirua, Mana and Upper Hutt. Pool D: Taita, Aotea, Kapiti and Wainuiomata.

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- The Dominion Post

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