World title-winning Wellington schoolgirls welcomed home
The school doesn't have a blade of grass to play on, but that hasn't stopped St Mary's College in Wellington from being pitch perfect in Japan.
The team received an emotional welcome at Wellington Airport on Thursday morning, after claiming the Sanix World Youth Tournament's rugby sevens title just days ago.
Clutching a replica trophy, and with their gold medals hanging from their necks, tears flowed as the team were congratulated by the fellow students and their families.
Vice-captain Renee Savai'inaea described the final against Kokugakuin University Tochigi High School as a "nail-biter", in which St Mary's eventually prevailed 26-22.
* The All Black, his best mate and the unbeatable St Mary's sevens team
* St Mary's College netballers secure big win over Wellington East Girls' College
* St Mary's College first Wellington school to qualify for national rugby top four
* Hurricanes loose forward Ardie Savea says he's happy to play anywhere
"We were quite humble. We just went to the tryline, did a prayer as a team, and clapped the audience for cheering for us," she said.
Coach Tuga Mativa, who drew on the expertise of All Blacks flanker and best mate Ardie Savea, said the victory was overwhelming.
"When the final whistle blew, I cried. I was emotional," Mativa said. "We've won many championships, but that had to be the sweetest."
Students from Rongotai College's first XV performed a passionate haka to acknowledge Mativa's part in the team's success.
"It's just surreal, just unreal," Mativa said.
While Hurricanes' commitments meant he was unable to travel to Japan, Savea was among the hordes of well-wishers greeting the team.
"We don't really see him as an All Black, though, we just see him as a good friend and coach," Savai'inaea smiled.
"I just think this [result has] really pushed the drive for other girls to come play rugby and give it a go, and also probably girls around the country will want to have a go at sevens as well."
College principal Catherine Ryan praised the girls for their tenacious attitudes.
"We have no field, but we have a lot of spirit and a lot of motivation, and if we want to make it work, we make it work," Ryan said.