Faith and hope but no charity
The odds are stacked against both Tasman teams ahead of the national sevens tournament in Queenstown tomorrow; young, inexperienced and injury-hit they may be, but they have the most important quality of all, according to coach and selector Mike Kerrisk - self-belief.
The men's team have an average age of just over 22 years; they have lost the experience and power of captain Tevita Koloamatangi and the aerial skills of Dan Hyatt to injury.
Yet the cushy talk of rebuilding or gaining experience was absent from the changing rooms at the team's final training run on Wednesday night. The noises emerging were of knocking over the favourites and creating history.
Sixteen men's sides qualified for the two-day national showpiece following regional tournaments late last year. Tasman have drawn Wellington, South Canterbury and two-time defending champions Auckland in pool A.
Tasman need to beat at least two of their pool opponents to make it through to the top-eight cup quarterfinals on day two, and Tasman's first opponents, Wellington, have large targets painted on their midriffs.
"Going through to the top eight on day two is our ultimate goal, no Tasman team has ever done that before, so being in the top eight is a big, big goal," Kerrisk said.
"Wellington is a game that the boys need to target and hit the ground running. We have traditionally had slow starts and suffered because of it.
"I honestly believe, and so do the boys . . . we have every chance of beating Wellington, who have looked scratchy."
Kerrisk said Tasman had an abundance of speed and guys who could punch through the line. But he said physicality counted for nought, unless you were mentally prepared to win. "We believe we can go down there and beat everybody; there are no second chances in sevens.
"If you go down there thinking, ‘Gee, we have to play Auckland and Wellington, we are going to get a hiding,' we may as well not be going at all.
"The strength is the fact that these guys are so keen. These boys have got the belief; there is a really good feeling about the squad and some real excitement among the boys.
"We have done all the hard work now, mentally we are now there."
Experienced former Tasman Makos halfback Shawn Begg has been named captain and Mitchell Scott will take over the vice-captaincy. Begg will again reprise his dual roles, doubling as co-coach of the women's team.
Tasman are one of the six women's teams competing at the national event for the first time in 10 years, and the manner of their qualification was nothing short of dramatic.
After three straight qualifying losses in Timaru, the Tasman women's team proved they could mix it with the best, in upsetting the unbeaten tournament favourites, Otago. But they will need to show a lot more Mr Hyde than Dr Jekyll in Queenstown.
The team that lost 41-7 to Otago in the round robin was timid in comparison with the uncompromising bruisers that turned up to take out the top qualifiers 19-17 in the semifinal.
Kerrisk, who is a selector to the Cyril Collier and Begg-coached side, said they could reproduce those efforts, now that they knew what was required.
"They produced 14 minutes against Otago that we absolutely knew they were capable of and we are asking the same of them again," said Kerrisk.
Strengthening the squad, Tasman have picked up two highly talented players from the vanquished southern provinces. Black Ferns international wing-fullback Halie Hurring of Otago will likely play as a power-prop, while New Zealand under-19 touch international Courtney O'Callaghan of Southland will be used in the halfback-playmaker role.
"We have exercised our right to bring in a couple of loan players from out of the region. These girls have slipped in very well and will be an asset to the team."
The women's competition will run as a round robin followed by a straight final. Each team will play the other five once, and the final will be contested by the two top qualifiers.
For all the players at the tournament, it will be a chance to impress All Blacks Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens and New Zealand Women's Sevens coach Sean Horan, as well as other decisionmakers watching around the country.
The tournament will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 1, with the first match kicking off tomorrow at 10.30am. Finals begin at 4.40pm on Sunday.
AT A GLANCE
Tasman men's schedule day one: 11.50am v Wellington (Queenstown), 2.50pm v Auckland, 6.10pm v South Canterbury. Tasman women's schedule day one: 11.10am v Auckland (Arrowtown), 12.50pm v Waikato (Arrowtown), 4.30pm v Manawatu Women (Queenstown); Day two: 10.45am v Taranaki Women (Queenstown), 2.30pm v Canterbury Women (Queenstown). Tasman men's squad: Shawn Begg (C), Dan Baxter, Kim Bateman, Mitchell Scott (Vc), James Lowe, Kaide Whiting, Ryan Setephano, Trael Joass, Fletcher Matthews, Dan Hytongue, Vern Fredericks, Sione Holani; coach Mike Kerrisk; manager Liam Squire; trainer Jeremy McIlroy; physio Phil Arthur. Tasman women's squad: Ange Cotton, Moana Forbes, Jodi Hikuroa, Fern Hoskin, Alesha Curtis, Zoe Johnson, Abbie Cederman, Halie Hurring, Ilisa Higgins, Yakira Taituha, Dana Wilson, Courtney O'Callaghan; coaches Shawn Begg/Cyril Collier; manager Tracey Black; trainer Chez Bloxham; physio Phil Arthur. National sevens pools: Pool A: Auckland, Wellington, Tasman, South Canterbury; Pool B: Otago, Hawke's Bay, North Harbour, Wairarapa Bush; Pool C: Waikato, Manawatu, Southland, Northland; Pool D: Canterbury, Taranaki, Counties-Manukau, Bay of Plenty. Women's teams: Auckland, Waikato, Taranaki, Manawatu, Tasman, Canterbury.
- © Fairfax NZ News