The Victorian Schools/Rebel Rugby U18 Team has finished the Schools National Carnival in seventh place, following a victory on the final day against the Combined States side.
The well deserved win was followed by the news that four Victorian players have also been selected to represent Australia.
Moli Sooaemalelagi (Roxburgh Park Secondary College) and Siotame Kavapalu (Rowville Secondary College) were selected in the Australian squad, while Junior Laloifi (Lalor Secondary College) and Niua Puaka (St Kevin’s College) earned places in the extended Australia A squad.
Both teams will face the Tongan U18 Schoolboys team within the next week.
The team’s preparation was strong in the lead up to the tournament, but inconsistency would cost them dearly. The Victorians went very close to securing what would have been impressive wins along the way, playing some exhilarating rugby and at times carving up opposition defenses. The talented team did not lack for adventurous and attacking play, but struggled to close out games and take their opportunities against more fancied opponents.
RaboDirect Rebels General Manager, Rugby Operations Josh Philpot said valuable lessons were learnt by the young players, and that whilst there is still more work to do, there is much to look forward to.
“The week’s results highlights both the challenge and the opportunity for Rugby in Victoria,” said Philpot.
“Whilst we need to continue to grow and improve our programs and competitions in this state to consistently compete at these National Championships in the future, we are ecstatic that we have four wonderful young men who have received higher honours this year.”
The first game of the tournament was against the eventual winners of the Championships, NSW 1. A marvelous start from the Rebel Rugby team put the Sky Blues under enormous pressure, but exciting runs from both Junior Laloifi and Bill Valetini were not capitalised on.
However, the opening to the tournament was excellent for the Vics, going into the half-time break leading 10–8. Talented young fly half Pat Toeta was rested at half-time due to a hamstring injury that almost ruled him out of the entire tournament. Unfortunately Pat’s injury would have ramifications for the whole week.
Early in the second-half key player Kemu Valetini dislocated his shoulder, ruling him out for the tournament and leaving another whole for the team to fill. His position was taken by U16 player Sione Tuapolutu who benefited greatly from the exposure to a higher standard. Unfortunately the NSW team took control in the second-half, scoring two late tries to run away with the game 37–13.
Best players were hooker Moli Sooaemalelagi, Jack Porritt and Joe Letoga in the back-row.
The Victorians were quickly blown away in the second fixture against Queensland 2, with the Reds taking a 19-nil lead within the first 10 minutes. The slow start was far too big to turn around, but the young Rebels chased hard for the rest of the match, showing a great deal of character in the process.
Junior Laloifi was damaging every time he got the ball, casting the odd spell with his feet; Brendan Westney and Joe Letoga in the back-row again were prevalent; while tighthead prop Siotame Kavapalu got through a mountain of work.
This game was a lesson in preparation, proving to the players that they had to prepare mentally as well as physically at this level, otherwise you won’t compete.
The 30-17 final score shows the boys never gave up, with Moli Sooaemalelagi, centre Niua Puaka and Junior Laloifi bagging the tries.
The first two disappointments needed to be forgotten quickly so the boys could focus on the match against the ACT, the marquee game for Victoria. This great rugby state has been the team to chase for us in the past, but is now very much the team we gauge ourselves against. The games are always close and we will continue to work hard to get their measure in the years to come as we grow the game, and the standard in this state.
The young Brumbies were willing in this match, throwing their bodies in at the breakdown. Whilst they gave away a lot of penalties, culminating in two yellow cards, their doggedness was rewarded by continual disruption to our ball. The Vics couldn’t hold onto the ball for multiple phases as they tried to push the pass and went away from the game plan.
Despite dominating possession an error in attack gifted the ACT’s talented centre a try on a platter, keeping them in touch in the second-half. With time all but up, the Vics again conceded a soft turnover. On the subsequent scrum the ACT capitalised on a defensive error, scoring a try under the posts, with the conversion coinciding with the final whistle. The ACT team broke the hearts of the Victorians, securing a dogged 12-10 win.
Lock Brad Campbell worked hard all day, Kemu Valetini’s bullocking runs were rewarded with a try, Vaasili Leota was busy and Joe Letoga was powerful in the back-row once again.
The last match of the week was against the Combined States team, a mixture of players from both NSW and Queensland, with both teams eager to claim their first win. A 5.45am wakeup call would test the mettle of the Vic Schoolboys at the end of a long week, but they showed great character and promise to finish the week on a high.
After a solid start the boys scored a try early, and from that point on the team’s confidence grew and they started to attack with customary Victorian flair. Dominating possession, they threw the ball around and showed some outstanding talent to run the ball from all over the park. There were still errors in their game which meant the 24-12 win wasn’t as large as it could have been, but it was comfortable in the end.
Junior Laloifi scored a hat-trick, combining well with Pat Toeta at fly half, while Vaasili Leota was rewarded for a great week with a try.
Whilst coming seventh was a disappointing team result, the players learnt a great deal about what is required to consistently compete at this level. Brendan Westney was rewarded for his off-field efforts as much as for what he did on field, taking out the Syd Sugarman Award as Best Team Man.
As the game grows on the back of the Rebels presence, the future of the game in Victoria looks bright. Many of the young players performed really well and experienced this level of rugby for the first time, which is a real positive as we continue to develop future talent in our home state.