Double delight for Waikato
Waikato will have both its men's and women's teams at next month's national sevens championship in Queenstown after a strong showing at the qualifying tournament in Auckland.
The Waikato men won the northern regional sevens qualifying tournament, beating previously unbeaten North Harbour 36-26 in Saturday's final at the Waitemata Rugby Club, despite being down to nine players due to injuries.
And the Waikato women were runners-up in their competition, beaten 33-24 by Auckland in the final.
In the men's competition the top six of the eight teams entered qualified and Waikato knew they had done enough to make it to Queenstown when they beat Northland 33-12 and Auckland Barbarians 21-12 in their first two pool matches.
As a result they rested several players and gave all their squad a run in the final pool game against North Harbour, losing 22-7 as a result.
That meant they had to play unbeaten Auckland in the semifinals, but won that 21-19 and then tipped up Harbour in the final, reduced to nine players due injuries to Jono Sullivan (dislocated and compound fracture of a finger), captain Steve Ketu (concussion) and Semisi Masirewa (six stitches in his hand).
Waikato coach Roger Randle said the team had improved as the tournament went on and played particularly well in the playoffs as they came to grips with their attacking system.
"It was definitely a tough tournament with northern region having a lot of good teams and players," Randle said.
Randle singled out Joe Scheres, Kylem O'Donnell, Glen Robertson and Nanai Naturaga as having outstanding tournaments.
Waikato women had a tougher assignment, having to finish in the top two to qualify and after beating Bay of Plenty 27-10, a 19-19 draw with Counties-Manukau when the latter scored out wide and converted with time up put the pressure on.
It meant Waikato had to rack up a big score against Northland to bolster their points differential and instead of resting their top players in that game they played them and won 52-0.
Waikato then had to either beat Auckland in their final round-robin match or keep the score close and hope Counties-Manukau didn't run up a big score against Bay of Plenty.
Waikato were tied with Auckland 12-12 when Auckland crossed their line to score in the last minute for a 17-12 victory.
Waikato coach Reuben Samuel said his top players were "absolutely wrecked" going into the final so he decided not to start them, having qualified for Queenstown.
Auckland raced out to 33-7 with five minutes to go before Samuel brought the likes of Hohepa sisters, Carl and Chyna, and Victoria Grant on and they scored 17 unanswered points.
"Auckland were very sharp with five or six New Zealand women's sevens players and the rest Black Ferns but we think on a good day we can beat them when we go to Queenstown," Samuel said. email@example.com