Atkins now studying career in rugby

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 16/01/2013

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Taranaki's hat-trick hero from the national sevens final has put a temporary hold on his varsity studies to search for a professional rugby contract.

Mark Atkins scored three tries in Taranaki's convincing 32-17 sevens triumph over North Harbour in Queenstown on Sunday - his power and pace catching the eye of several seasoned observers.

The 21-year-old has spent the past three years studying for a physical education degree at Otago University, though rugby commitments through the latter half of last year slowed his progress.

"I couldn't keep it going with all my sporting commitments, so I've decided to move back to New Plymouth and give rugby a bit of a shot," he said.

A former New Plymouth Boys' High School first XV loose forward, Atkins has been involved in the Otago under-19 and colts sides and played for invitational sevens teams overseas.

The son of former Canterbury stalwart Dale Atkins, Mark plans to turn out for Tukapa in the Taranaki senior A competition, preferably at No 8.

"It's been in the last year only that I've been involved in sevens because I hadn't played a lot before then," he said.

"My goal, at the moment, is to get a contract playing professional footy somewhere in New Zealand. Whether that's sevens or 15s it doesn't worry me at all but that's the big goal, to get something over the next year or so."

With no approach from national sevens coach Gordon Tietjens following the tournament in Queenstown, Atkins' best chance of fulfilling his goal could be through producing some top club form to impress the NPC coaches.

"I just have to see what sort of opportunities come along," he said.

"I'm mindful that I've got to take any opportunity that comes along and grab it with both hands."

Being constantly referred to as the "son of" was not something he was too bothered about.

"It doesn't worry me," he said.

"Obviously, the old man was a pretty handy player and deserves the credit he gets. All I'm trying to do is play some good footy too."

As for the post-tournament celebrations after Taranaki picked up a first national sevens title since 1982, Atkins said they were far from over the top.

"Most of us were pretty buggered, obviously, but we still managed a few good celebrations."

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