Sevens fun, even if Stags never made final

Southland Times sports editor Nathan Burdon looks back at the past nine years of national sevens tournaments in Queenstown.

2004: Queenstown hosts the national sevens tournament for the first time, reviving a tournament which had fallen into disrepair after four years in Palmerston North.

North Harbour went through unbeaten, including a 48-7 win over surprise finalist Otago. The Harbour team featured veterans Karl Te Nana and Matua Parkinson and a young Rudi Wulf, who scored two tries in the final and won the Joe Tauiwi Memorial Trophy as the player of the tournament.

Southland didn't fare so well, a drinking incident involving some of the players leading to an under-par second day at the tournament. An embarrassed Rugby Southland instituted a drinking ban for its representative players for the remainder of the season.

2005: Two fantastic days of weather saw estimated 4000-strong crowds attend both days of the tournament, which was marked by a moment of silence to commemorate the Asian tsunami. The Sevens with Altitude committee which organised the event included 19 volunteers and Pub Charity came on board as a new title sponsor.

With Jonah Lomu watching on, the Eric Rush-coached Auckland team beat Northland 42-12 in the final with Amasio Valence named player of the tournament and David Smith also prominent.

Southland, coached by Grant Dermody, lost to Otago in the bowl semifinal, with Bryan Milne the team's standout player.

2006: Auckland equalled North Harbour's record of seven titles despite Eric Rush missing the tournament after suffering a blood clot on the lung. With To'o Vaega in charge, the Aucks scored 26 unanswered points in the second half of the final to beat Wellington 43-12.

The star of the tournament was undoubtedly 18-year-old Southlander Tane Puki, who had the crowd in the palm of his hand with his pace and stepping ability.

Southland coach Grant Dermody described Puki as "a freak", and his efforts inspired Southland to a ninth-placed finish in the 16-team event and victory in the bowl final - its best result since the tournament began in 1975.

2007: Eric Rush returned to the helm of the Auckland team as they beat Canterbury 36-17 in the final, with Auckland NPC coach Pat Lam acting as the team's "water boy".

An unlucky Southland team lost four players to injury and unavailability the week before the tournament and was beaten by Otago in the semifinal of the bowl.

Otago Country was a popular addition after joining the tournament late when Horowhenua Kapiti withdrew. The team didn't disgrace itself despite losing 49-5 to Auckland and 53-nil to Waikato, proving competitive in parts of all its pool games before going out of the tournament after losing 24-5 to South Canterbury in the shield semifinal.

2008: Anyone wanting to see All Black halfback Piri Weepu, who was recovering from offseason knee surgery, playing for Wellington alongside sevens stars like Nigel Hunt and Victor Vito had to pay, with a $5 entry fee introduced for the first time to cover the rising costs of hosting the tournament.

Eric Rush claimed a fourth-straight title with his Auckland team, beating Counties Manukau 24-15 in the final, despite losing nine players from the previous year. Counties player David Raikuna won the Joe Tauiwi trophy

Southland paid a price for using the tournament to focus its 15-aside players with outgoing Southland sevens coach Grant Dermody hoping Rugby Southland would revisit its decision to downgrade its sevens programme.

The Southland team failed to win a single game from five outings, including a 26-19 loss to Heartland union Horowhenua-Kapiti in the shield semifinal.

2009: North Harbour ended Auckland's run of four straight titles, beating Counties Manukau 29-26 in the final, with Luke Hamilton named player of the tournament.

An estimated 9000 people attended the tournament over the two days, with the Bledisloe Cup, Tri-Nations Cup, the Ranfurly Shield, the Air New Zealand Cup and the Super 14 Trophy guests of honour.

Willie Rickards inspired Southland, who had lost Tane Puki to an ankle injury before the tournament, to a win in the shield section after losing all three of its pool games.

2010: Rain made a rare appearance at the tournament, but it was the non-appearance of Canterbury which created the headlines before the 2010 event. Citing financial constraints, the red-and-blacks opted not to send a team to Queenstown.

Ma'a Nonu, Piri Weepu and Christian Cullen were among the invited guests.

An injury time try by skipper Tim Mikkleson saw Waikato win its first title since 1998, with a 21-14 victory over Bay of Plenty in the final. Taranaki's Ben Souness won the Joe Tauiwi trophy.

Southland was beaten 26-5 by Auckland in the Bowl semifinal after losing all three pool games.

2011: Auckland won its fifth title in eight years, despite arriving in the resort town ranked 10th of the 16 teams. The Wayne Pivac-coached team beat Taranaki 36-26 in the final. Off the field there was talk of Bay of Plenty bidding to take the tournament away from Queenstown, something which would eventually come true.

Auckland's Malakai Fekitoa was awarded the Joe Tauiwi trophy, while Bryce Heem im-pressed for the title-winners after switching from the backs to the forwards and Taranaki's Beauden Barrett also showed his class.

Southland rugby's financial issues meant it did not send a team to Queenstown.

2012: Auckland won a record 11th title but they did it the hard way, coming back from losing positions on Saturday and again in the semifinal against Waikato.

Wayne Pivac's men beat Otago 36-24 in the final despite not having any current New Zealand representatives.

Otago's Buxton Popoali'i, who was released from the Highlanders' wider training squad for the tournament and scored two tries in the final, won the Joe Tauiwi trophy for the player of the tournament.

Southland looked like it would not send a team for a second year due to budget constraints, but sponsorship from the AmcalWai-kiwi and Unichem Gore pharmacies saved the day.

Southland lost Scott Eade to a hamstring injury at training and were knocked out at the semifinal stage of the Bowl by Tasman. Marty McKenzie was Southland's best player in Queenstown.

The Southland Times