Auckland favoured to make it seven 7s titles
Auckland have dominated the national sevens finals in Queenstown over the past decade and hope to sign off on their time in the resort town with another title this weekend.
They have won 11 national sevens crowns since the tournament began in 1975, three more than the next-best team, North Harbour. Since the tournament has been hosted in Queenstown they have won six of the nine events staged there.
The Bay of Plenty Rugby Union has won the right to stage the next two tournaments in Rotorua.
"Teams come down here to win the tournament and we are no different," Auckland coach Paul Feeney said yesterday.
"We are looking for a strong last tournament in Queenstown but we know there are a lot of good teams around as well."
One of those teams will be Waikato, with the two sides having sparred already at several tournaments.
"We played them in the semis of the regionals and they pipped us after the hooter and we beat them last week at the Mount [Bay of Plenty Invitational Sevens]," Feeney said. "It should be pretty tight."
The depth of the Auckland team is such that outstanding sevens prospect Gareth Williams-Spier, a member of Gordon Tietjens' New Zealand team before Christmas, has missed out on Feeney's side.
"Our two guys that play on the wing currently are Ben Lam and Milford Keresoma, who both play for New Zealand," Feeney said.
"We are just in a position where we've got a hell of a lot of depth. Gareth scored three tries in the final at the Mount but you can't pick everyone."
Auckland's depth is Southland's gain, and with Tietjens keen to see as many players as possible showing their wares in Queenstown, the flyer will line up in a maroon jersey this weekend.
Southland find themselves in a tough pool, against Waikato, Northland and Manawatu.
If they are to deliver on their goal to qualify for the top half of the competition for the first time, they will have to win two of those games, starting with their opening match against Manawatu at 11.10am today.
The tournament opens with Taranaki and Counties Manukau playing at the Queenstown Recreation Ground at 10.30am.
The women's competition, in Arrowtown, kicks off at 11.10am with Auckland playing Tasman.
Games are scheduled to run from 9.05am tomorrow, with the women's final at 6.05pm and the men's final at 6.35pm.
A spokeswoman for the TAB said a lack of information about the teams at the national finals meant it hadn't set odds for the tournament.
It was planning on creating a book either late last night or after the first round of games today.
The Southland Times