Manawatu women claim sevens title - again
Manawatu is now well and truly the powerhouse of women's sevens in New Zealand after their second national title in a row.
Manawatu beat Auckland 19-12 in the national championship final at Rotorua yesterday to win back-to-back national crowns after their victory in Queenstown last year.
They also became the first team, men's or womens', to win the Bay of Plenty provincial competition and the national title in the same year.
Manawatu coach Stu Ross was a happy man after the close final.
"We've won everything we can this year, 2013-2014," he said. "It wasn't easy. It gets harder and harder.
"The quality of teams improves, the quality of coaching and the girls are improving."
He praised the performance of stars Sarah Goss, Selica Winiata and Kristine Sue, but also their hard-working team mates Raylene Kirk and Nicole Dickins.
Goss put in a massive workload during the weekend, while Winiata was always a constant threat for opposition with her speed.
It was their second win over the always-strong Auckland team in a week after beating them at the Bay of Plenty tournament.
"It's a testament to the girls and how hard they want to work," Ross said. "Management and staff can have all the flash drills in the world but it doesn't matter if the girls don't want to put the effort in."
Ross was right in that the other teams are getting better, as even with all of Manawatu's stars, they had to work hard in nearly all their games.
In pool play Manawatu beat Taranaki 17-12, Bay of Plenty 43-0 and Canterbury 17-15, and drew with Counties Manukau 12-all, finishing second in the pool behind Counties Manukau.
They snuck past Otago 10-7 in the quarterfinal and beat Counties Manukau 24-5 in the semifinal.
They had to grind all weekend, Ross said.
"To be honest, the final was probably when we were the calmest. All the pool games were intense and down to the wire."
Manawatu scored first in the final through youngster Hayley Hutana, before Crystal Mayes set up Winiata.
Auckland hit back through Kayla McAlister just after halftime, but then Winiata sealed it by putting a grubber kick through, kicking it again and diving on the ball.
Manawatu was unlucky not to have Winiata or Goss named player of the tournament, which instead went to Hazel Tubic.
There should be a good contingent of Manawatu players named today when the 17 contracted New Zealand players are announced and will be heading to the legs of the world series in Atlanta, United States and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Ross will be the assistant coach of the New Zealand team for those two stops.