By Dan Tasker
There is plenty on the line as the Southern Bush Pigs look to defend their U85kg National Club Cup title against the Auckland University Debt Collectors this Saturday.
Having navigated their way through five rounds of sudden death, both teams will face-off in the national knockout cup final as the curtain-raiser for the All Blacks v Argentina test match at Hamilton’s FMG Stadium.
For the Bushies, it’s a chance to go back-to-back, to reinforce their quality calibre after winning their first title against the Tukapa Bantams in New Plymouth last year, albeit with no North Harbour, Auckland or Counties-Manukau teams involved due to Covid-19.
They will get to answer that question of whether they can mix it with the North Island’s best against Auckland University, who are arguably in the midst of their greatest season, having recently won their first Auckland U85 club championship.
The final also presents a rare opportunity for the Debts to do the double and claim not only the Auckland club title but a national one as well.
Coach Cory Larsen said the boys have been tracking towards the game all season and are keen to get out on the hallowed Hamilton turf.
“When this cup started and knowing the final would be a curtain-raiser for the All Blacks we’ve had a saying, ‘The Pathway to FMG Stadium’. Every game we’d win, we knew we were inching ourselves closer to that end goal to play at FMG Stadium and also get a curtain-raiser for the All Blacks.
“I think looking back once the game’s over, this will be a highlight in the boys’ rugby careers and getting to play in a national stadium. I don’t think we’ve had an opportunity like this before so we’re just trying to enjoy the week,” he said.
While the Debt Collectors will make the hour or so trip down State Highway 1, the Bush Pigs will board a plane in Dunedin on Saturday morning and jet north for their biggest road trip of the season.
Southern manager Andrew James said the boys are ready to unleash their revered attack on a Debt Collectors team known for its stoic defence.
“The major thing is to not stop what’s working. We’re going to keep using our back three and we have key backs who will continue to attack.
“We know finals are tight and bring a lot of pressure, but we still need to use those weapons out the back. We’ve been there before but the Debt Collectors have won their own competition this year as well, so both teams have that finals experience. I’m sure it’s going to be an absolute classic.”
The southerners qualified for the final off the back of a resounding 48-5 victory in their semifinal against the Karaka Razzlers last weekend, while Auckland University had a tougher time of it against the College Rifles Bombers to sneak home 16-11 in Remuera.
The 2022 Under 85kg National Club Cup Final between Southern Bush Pigs and University of Auckland Debt Collectors kicks off at 4.15pm on Saturday 3 September, at FMG Stadium Waikato. You can also catch the action live on Sky Sport.