Energetic Tasman sides qualify for Queenstown
It's mission accomplished for the Tasman sevens group.
Heading into the South Island regional tournament in Timaru on Saturday, national qualification was the No 1 priority for both the men's and women's sides.
Both teams accomplished their goal, booking a place at the Queenstown tournament in January.
The men's team were knocked out in the semifinal, beaten 43-14 by eventual champions Otago but still achieved the top-five placing needed to make the Pub Charity National Sevens Tournament, alongside Otago, Canterbury, Southland and South Canterbury.
The women's team made it to the final against Canterbury, attaining the top-two placing needed to progress.
A 34-0 drubbing failed to wipe the smiles off their faces, following their 19-17 semifinal upset over the unbeaten tournament favourites Otago.
In the men's semifinal, Otago had the edge in every department. The Tofa Shield winners were undoubtedly the top side, but the tournament draw gave them an easy run.
Tasman went into the semi having played three games; a 17-15 win over Southland in the opener, a 35-1 loss to Canterbury and a breath-taking 31-7 win over hosts South Canterbury.
Tasman were asked to back up for the semi within an hour of their third pool game. Otago had a near four-hour break after cantering to wins in their two pool games against North Otago and Mid-Canterbury.
Otago applied their energy in contact, disrupting what little ball Tasman had. Tasman played with only 15 per cent possession in the first half, and by the second half, hard work in defence and the extra game caught up with them as Otago streaked away.
Tasman captain Tevita Koloamatangi played every minute of every game. Koloamatangi's mix of power and pace was a handful for all defences, as was his ability to stand and offload in the tackle.
The pace and silky skills of Mitchell Scott and Kim Bateman provided footage for the Sky Sports highlight reel, as did Sione Holani's two-try effort against South Canterbury.
Top Tasman tryscorer with three for the tournament was sevens general Sean Begg. Begg's acceleration and ability to sum up a situation saw him lead the Tasman side around the park, and to another national finals tournament.
The Tasman women went into the semifinal without a win. The first-up 24-10 loss against Southland and a 17-5 loss to Canterbury were tight encounters, but Tasman were undone by errors and defensive lapses.
The 41-7 loss to Otago hurt Tasman's pride, but not for long. With only four teams contesting the women's competition, Tasman drew top qualifiers Otago in the semifinal, and went on to produce a superb effort across the park.
Fern Hoskin was an undoubted star, scoring all three of Tasman's tries, taking her tournament tally to five.
Hoskin provided the out-and-out pace on the end of the chain, but a 90-metre solo effort and flash footwork in the final try showcased her individual flair.
Yakira Taituha was always impressive, dominating the contact and ranging out wide. Jodi Hikuroa marshalled well in the playmaker position along with the impressive young talent from Marlborough, Zoe Johnson.
The tone in the semifinal was rightly set by captain and New Zealand sevens representative Moana Forbes.
Forbes ran strongly all tournament, but her defence in the final was inspirational. Her play inspired her team-mates to up their game without the ball, which was ultimately the catalyst for victory.
It was evident from Forbes' comments, the game against Otago was Tasman's final.
"We put it all out there in the semi," said Forbes. "[I'm] totally proud, we worked as a team unit and kicked butt in that semi."
Men's coach and women's selector Mike Kerrisk said the trip could be rated as a success.
"Qualifying for the nationals was first and foremost, anything that came after was a bonus."
Kerrisk said the draw dealt Tasman a tough run, but the top teams still made the grade.
"There was quite a bit of disquiet regarding the draw . . . but the best teams qualify at the end of the day.
"It wasn't favourable, having one more game of sevens takes a massive toll on the players. Otago were the best team in the tournament, no two ways about it, but they were very fresh, not having to play that extra game."
One of the pleasing aspects for Kerrisk was to see the women's side play to their potential in the match against Otago.
"At the beginning of the year, the majority of that team hadn't even held a rugby-shaped ball in their hand, let alone played in a sevens tournament at that level. It just shows we are doing something right with the programmes we have going here. They really put it together for that 14 minutes."
- © Fairfax NZ News