Taranaki win sevens title
"There was something in their eyes..."GLENN MCLEAN
Rookie Taranaki sevens coach Willie Rickards knew minutes before yesterday's national sevens final that he was about to witness something special.
"When the boys came to warm up just before the final there was something in their eyes that I had not seen before," he said.
"I don't know what it was but it was just like a switch went on and from that point I felt very confident. I said to [assistant coach] Ben Souness that these boys are ready to play."
Play they did, as Taranaki produced a first half shut-out, with North Harbour making only one fleeting visit into their half as the score blew out to 17-0 at halftime.
The game was effectively killed as a spectacle when Taranaki's Mark Atkins scored his second and third tries immediately after halftime.
Written off by most heading into the tournament, given the squad's relative inexperience, Taranaki produced some gutsy play at the business end of the tournament to win their first national title since 1982 - two years before Rickards was born.
The 32-17 win over North Harbour followed a hard-fought 17-7 semifinal win over Otago, secured in the last minute when standout performer Warwick Lahmert crossed to score.
Many still thought North Harbour would win the title, given they had impressed knocking out tournament favourites and defending champions Auckland in the quarterfinal.
"It's just an amazing feeling," Rickards said. "The boys were exceptional in the final and they played with a real belief that they could win. It was just a wonderful occasion."
Taranaki's form on day two of the tournament improved from the previous day as they started with a 27-10 win over Northland in the quarterfinals, set up through a strong first-half performance which netted four tries in the last five minutes.
Their 22-5 advantage allowed Rickards to make substitutions early in the second half and keep several key players relatively fresh for a semifinal.
While Taranaki scored only one second-half try, they did slow the game down for a period after Rick McKenna was yellow carded for playing the ball after he was penalised.
Taranaki qualified for the men's quarterfinals after winning two of their three pool games. A last gasp 15-10 win over Counties-Manukau was followed by a 19-15 loss to Bay of Plenty.
That left Taranaki needing to beat Canterbury, which they did, winning 31-10.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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