Underdone Waikato set for tough sevens tournament

BEN STRANG
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2013
Waikato Rugby Union, Kylem O'Donnell
Bruce Mercer/Fairfax Media

Kylem O'Donnell will share the Waikato sevens captaincy with Jono Malo.

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Waikato's mens team are looking a little green heading into the northern regional sevens tournament tomorrow, but will be playing for pride and a place in the national tournament at Waikato Stadium.

The club rugby sevens league ended on November 30, giving the team little time to train before the tournament, and no time for warm-up matches against other unions.

Waikato will also be without their New Zealand representatives, Tim Mikkelson and Joe Webber.

However, playing at Waikato Stadium is sure to give the players a boost, many of whom have not played at the ground, according to coach Roger Randle.

"It's going to be tough, it certainly won't be easy. Sevens is just on the day, and it will come down to that," he said.

"Trying to replicate it without having games is tough. You need to be playing to get better and see where you're at, but we haven't had that.

"It's going to be a good chance for the guys to play in front of their families, some of them wouldn't have played there, and I'm passionate about that strong arm on the chest."

Last year Waikato won the regional tournament, and had a strong build up heading into the national tournament in January.

They then bombed out in Queenstown, losing to Northland and Southland in pool play and failing to make the top eight.

Randle said the team was too focused on the next round and didn't pay enough attention to pool play, a mistake that wouldn't happen again.

"We made the finals for all the pre-tournaments before nationals, were looking really good, and then we didn't turn up.

"That's it. You fail to turn up and your tournament can be over in an hour and a half, after a couple of games in pool play. Once you start looking past your pool, it's over for you."

Jono Malo and Kylem O'Donnell will co-captain the young Waikato side on Saturday, which Randle said includes a couple of young schoolboy players.

The bulk of the Waikato squad have been picked from the local sevens competition, which he said was reward for those players' commitment to the sevens programme.

Waikato will play Bay of Plenty, Counties Manakau and Thames Valley in its pool, while Auckland, North Harbour, Northland and Waikato Harlequins make up the second pool.

The top five teams will qualify, excluding Bay of Plenty who have already qualified as hosts of the national sevens in Rotorua this time.

In the women's draw, Waikato will play Counties Manukau, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, North Harbour and Northland, with the top four qualifying for nationals.

Play starts at 10.10am at Waikato Stadium, and across the road at Fraser-Tech's Mill Street ground.

Semifinals start at 3.30pm, and the women's final will be played at 5.10pm, while the men's final is at 5.40pm.

Entry into Waikato Stadium for the day is free. Spectators can enter the ground through Gate 3 and stadium food and beverages will be on sale.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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