Varsity A make Manawatu rugby semi-finals

Four brothers from the Tufuga family are part of the Varsity A team: tighthead prop Sam (left), centre Ueta, loosehead prop Max and number eight Kirk.

Massey University's flagship rugby team, Varsity A, embark on their quest for an unprecedented third trophy in a season when they play Kia Toa on Saturday.

Varsity qualified top in the first two rounds of Manawatu club rugby, capturing the Jubilee Cup in round one and the Centennial Shield last Saturday. 

They meet Kia Toa for the third time this season in Saturday's semifinal, a repeat of last year's Hankins Shield final, which Varsity won 18-17. It was Varsity’s 20th title in its history, which dates back to 1929. They have made the semi-finals every year since 2009.

New coach this year is Scott Lewis, who captained the team to win the Hankins Shield in 2010.

Under his tutelage, Varsity have had just two losses, both at home to Feilding Old Boys-Oroua (13-12) and Feilding (16-14). 

“I'm pretty happy with how everything has gone,” Lewis says. “It is one of the easier teams in the competition to coach. The senior group do a lot of talking. It is always the way Varsity have gone.”

By seniors, he is referring to current or recent Manawatu Turbos second five-eighth Hamish Northcott, hooker Nick Grogan, first five-eighth Sam Malcolm, lock Tom Hughes and halfback Jamie Booth as well as No 8 and Turbos development squad member Kirk Tufuga.

On the representative fringe are fullback and last year's Heartland player of the year, Te Rangitira Waitokia and flankers Nathan Tweedy and Doug Juszczyk, this year’s Varsity captain.

When Varsity met Kia Toa in the first round, the Varsity forwards turned on an opening 20-minute masterclass to be 14-0 up after 10 minutes, en route to a 37-15 win. Varsity also won, 21-13, in the Centennial Shield round and yet vibes from the city suggest Varsity are Kia Toa's preferred opponents as Kia seek their fifth consecutive final.

The downside on Saturday will be that Varsity must get by without utility back Sam Healy (overseas), Booth (quad strain), lock and the team's most consistent player Mickey Woolliams (broken collarbone) and probably lock Ian Burmeister (hamstring).

Varsity though do have forwards depth and Samoan under-20 captain Ueta Tufuga made a timely return from injury to the midfield against Te Kawau last Saturday.

The game is at 2.45pm at Massey 8. The other semifinal is between College Old Boys and Old Boys-Marist at Arena Manawatu.

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