U85kg National Club Cup Semi-Final preview

By Dan Tasker

The Southern Bush Pigs will face the sternest test of their short but decorated history when they host the Karaka Razzlers in the U85kg National Club Cup semi-finals in Dunedin on Saturday.

Off the back of their 2021 national championship run, the Bushies returned to defend their title and so far so good, but with Covid-19 ruling out all North Harbour, Auckland and Counties-Manukau teams last year, Saturday will be Southern’s first chance to test themselves against a team from the hotbed of U85kg rugby, manager Andrew James said.

“We’re really excited because we haven’t played an Auckland team yet. The only team we’ve played above Wellington was Tukapa in the final last year, so we’re really excited to play our first Auckland side this weekend.”

Beaten semi-finalists in the Counties-Manukau club season, Karaka have played their best footy in the knockout cup this year with standout wins against two former knockout cup finalists – the Auckland University Squids and the Tukapa Bantams – in the early rounds.

Having watched Karaka closely on the livestream through the season, James said the Bush Pigs were looking forward to the challenge ahead.

“I’ve been trying to get a bit of oil from my Auckland mates about them – they’re big in the forwards and have a guy that’s supposedly played for Tonga against the All Blacks at the back. The eyes are on the prize this week and we can’t wait for the battle.”

The Bush Pigs is the vision of founder Thomas Grant, who created the Dunedin-based team in 2021 under the Carisbrook Bush Pigs banner, in honour of the legacy of the famous former Dunedin rugby ground Carisbrook.

Now aligning with the Southern club at Bathgate Park under the tutelage of Tyron Pelasio, the Bushies have become the pioneers of U85kg rugby in Otago, something James hopes will bear fruit in the coming years.

“There’s a buzz around Dunedin with 85s with what the Bushies have done, and I think there will be another club that looks to have a team grow 85s down here next year,” James said. “In the mid-to-longer term there could be an U85s grade here, but being a university town, we have a strong Colts grade so I’m not sure where U85s fits. It can grow and I believe it will grow down here in Dunedin and it has been growing in Canterbury too.”

The Auckland University Debt Collectors took the fourth and final semifinalist spot after beating North Harbour champs the Takapuna Bombers 15-9 on Wednesday night.

They will face the College Rifles Bombers at College Rifles Park in the second semifinal on Saturday, which is poised to be a humdinger with the recently crowned Auckland club champion Debt Collectors now setting their sights on national spoils, but first they must get through their cross-town rivals the Bombers, who finished sixth in the Auckland competition and recently bet the Hamilton Marist Bulldogs 26-19 in the quarterfinals.