Wellington win National Sevens
A young Wellington side edged out Auckland 26-17 in the men’s Final of the National Sevens in Rotorua on Sunday to take out the title for the first time since 2002.
A young Wellington side, coached by former All Black Scott Waldrom, edged out Auckland 26-17 in the men’s Final of the 2014 National Sevens in Rotorua on Sunday to take out the title for the first time since 2002.
Earlier, the Manawatu women’s side defended their title, putting Auckland away 19-12.
In the men’s Final, returning New Zealand Sevens player Ben Lam opened the scoring for Auckland, but Wellington struck back with a brace of tries, including two to New Zealand Sevens veteran Lote Raikabula to lead 19-5 at the break.
Auckland responded early in the second half and closed the gap to 19-17 but Wellington co-captain Greg Foe hit back with a converted try to seal the win.
“We have been working hard for these boys, but we didn’t think we were going to do it,” said Waldrom, who is in charge of the team for the first time.
“There is a lot of talent in this young group and they are pretty new to Sevens so for them to do so well in their first tournament is amazing.”
Earlier, Auckland made the Final despite a strong challenge from Northland who surprisingly thumped Canterbury 26-0 in the quarterfinals.
The Aucklanders’ route to the Final was nearly blocked by the Tomasi Cama-coached Manawatu side in the quarters, with Auckland needing a golden point try in extra time to squeeze past them 19-14.
Wellington also faced a tough route to the Final, upsetting defending champions Taranaki 10-5 in their semifinal, and pipping Otago 24-19 in the quarterfinal.
The women’s Final was a star-studded affair with both teams boasting many players in the New Zealand women’s Sevens team.
Manawatu raced to a 14-0 lead with tries to Hayley Hutana and Selica Winiata before Auckland struck back through Kayla McAlister and Linda Itunu early in the second half.
But a smart kick and chase try from Winiata sealed the win for Manawatu with three minutes to go.
Captain Sarah Goss said: “I am so happy for the girls, they played awesome rugby. We put in a lot of hard yards over the summer, we did a lot of fitness training and we played as a team.”
Manawatu dropped a game in pool play on Saturday and needed two sharp tries from Winiata to help them squeeze past Otago in their quarterfinal on Sunday. However, they thumped Counties 24-5 to nail their Final spot.
Auckland was in standout form all tournament, but faced a stiff test from Waikato in their semifinal, needing a last-gasp try from IRB Women’s Sevens Player of the Year McAlister to seal their spot in the Final.
New Zealand Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens was very pleased at the depth of talent on display over the weekend as he heads into camp with the team on Monday.
“There are a lot of young coaches coming through and it’s great to see we are building depth as we head to the Olympics. I have seen a real improvement and seeing a young team like Wellington coming through and winning a bruising Final is great.”
New Zealand women’s Sevens coach Sean Horan was also pleased with the progress he saw over the weekend.
“Last year we had just six teams and Waikato, Manawatu and Auckland were a long way ahead of everyone else, but on Day One you just saw Manawatu sneaking home, that sort of thing, so that’s a true testament to what the provincial unions are putting in place, the coaching staff and players.
“It’s still new, but what I have seen in the last two days has been pretty outstanding. The athletes are getting fitter and faster, the skill levels are getting better, hence the competition is getting better.”
Wellington 26-17 Auckland
Manawatu 37-17 Bay of Plenty
North Harbour 28-26 Counties Manukau
Manawatu 19-12 Auckland
Taranaki 21-12 Otago
Canterbury 31-7 Southland
Men's Player of the Tournament: George Tilsey (Manawatu)
Women’s Player of the Tournament: Hazel Tubic (Counties Manukau)