Wellington wins national men's sevens crown

BEN STRANG
Last updated 20:40 12/01/2014

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Wellington won its second national sevens title in Rotorua today, beating Auckland 26-17 in a thrilling Championship final.

Auckland were also second best in the women's final, beaten by a Selica Winiata led Manawatu 19-12 at Rotorua International Stadium.

Wellington had to fight hard for its win, and almost paid for two missed chances when Auckland threatened a late comeback.

Auckland started the better of the teams, with Ben Lam diving between two defenders to score the opening try after three minutes.

Wellington then started to keep possession, and All Blacks Sevens star Lote Raikabula had his team on the score board, polishing off a slick attacking move.

Raikabula was in again a minute later, with giant Wellingtonian Vaea Fifita winning the aerial duel for the kickoff before offloading to Hayden Schrijvers, who found Raikabula open to run the ball home.

Fifita was in the action again on the stroke of halftime, getting across the line and needlessly fending a defender and offloading to Afa Fa'atau to score under the posts.

After the break Fifita continued to be at the centre of the action, this time for the wrong reason.

Had he put the foot down he was sure to score for Wellington on the right, but Akira Iaone caught up with the jogging Fifita and stripped the ball.

Iaone took the ball 60m for the try, and then Ben Lam scored a minute later to bring Auckland within two points at 19-17.

That seemed to shock Wellington back to life, as Tiwi Davies found space on the left before firing an inside pass to Greg Foe for the score which settled the final.

Wellington went through the tournament unbeaten, including a 17-14 victory over Auckland in pool play.

It was only Wellington's second national tournament victory in 40 years of competition, the last being in 2002 when the tournament was held in Palmerston North.

Unfortunately for Auckland, it was also runner up in the women's event.Manawatu became back-to-back champions in the women's competition, on the back of a stunning performance from Selica Winiata.

The green machine took down Auckland 19-12 in an exciting final, with Winiata scoring two tries and leading her team to glory.

Hayley Hutana gave Manawatu the perfect start two minutes in, after Kristina Sue won the ball in a tackle and passed it on to Crystal Mayes, who found Hutana open on the left wing.

Winiata added the conversion, and then scored for a try of her own four minutes later.Mayes was again the provider, fooling two Auckland defenders with a stunning dummy on her own 22m line before breaking free, and handing the ball on to Winiata to streak clear for the try.

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Kayla McAlister struck back for Auckland after the restart, finding a gap after the ball had been spread wide and running 70m to score.

After halftime Hutana was called upon twice to prevent certain Lara Diamond-Brahne tries on both sides of the field.

Auckland did finally get in, with Linda Itunu bundling over after some strong forward play to have her team behind 14-12.

Then Winiata hit back.She wears the number 7 on the rugby field, and showed more skill than most number sevens on a football field as she grubber kicked through the Auckland defence, before dribbling the ball 15 metres and diving on the ball to score.

That rounded out the scoring, and it was appropriate that Winiata had the last say in the match after a stellar tournament.

- Fairfax Media

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