Bayleys National Sevens Finals 2017

Rotorua Bayleys National Sevens
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After the hot and dry conditions of Day One, the final day of the Bayleys National Sevens Finals 2017 were a contrast. Wet and greasy, it tested the players, organizers and fans dedication. Gladly, the play on the field was still world class.

Bayleys National Sevens Finals 2017

Day One saw a much more fast-paced match style, with teams testing each other on the edges and with some huge tackling as well. However on the flip-side, Day Two was about ‘who played the smartest rugby sevens.’

Interested observers included ACC SportSmart ambassador Nehe Milner-Skudder and incoming new head coach for the New Zealand men’s Sevens team, Clark Laidlaw. Both were impressed by the standard of play from the men and the women – look for an interview with each to be published on another date.

Day Two – National Sevens, Rotorua

The draw would see the men’s Bowl quarter finals, followed by the important Cup qualifiers. They were heated, even as the early part of Day Two had drizzling rain which persisted on and off all day. It still meant possession and territory was primary, and the teams that succeeded were Waikato, Counties-Manukau, Taranaki and Wellington.

On the Women’s side of the tournament, counter to the conditions, the ladies went ‘all out.’ An area where the teams targeted, was the kickoff. Many sides who dominated here, were able to create first-phase ball. After the first matches, the leading teams were Manawatu, Counties, Waikato and Auckland.

Taranaki fans cheering on their team during the Rotorua Bayleys National Sevens in Rotorua (Photo by Mead Norton Photography/Getty Images)

The locals cheered on all the participating teams, on both Field One and the top Field number two. More flags were in view today, more a boisterous and vocal union support, as the rewards drew closer. The emphasis increased too.

Women’s Game Strong at National Sevens

One area of clear growth, is in the women’s game. It’s status is undoubted, and bringing the women back to the tournament in the last five years was a visionary decision. Well supported, with many matches on Field One, they earned that position and matches never disappointed.

One player who had been a part of the sevens for well over a decade, is Waikato’s Honey Hireme. An outside back who has covered more ground over the rugby field than many of her junior team mates.

While this experienced player has been central to the NZ ‘Black Ferns’ Sevens team, she has retired from the International sevens game to concentrate on XV’s ahead of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, in Dublin – look for an interview with each to be published on another date.

With this side to maintain her fitness, as well as pursue another title for her province, every one of the 12 sides brought high quality players with them. The quarter finals may have separated the top four, but having a balance of young and old [no offence Honey] was a key factor for teams and for competitors to not ‘drop their heads’. In a team atmosphere, experienced players would keep spirits up.

Anna Richards Women’s Player of the Tournament

Even if outside of the top four, Kelly Brazier for Bay of Plenty never stopped trying. Her team finished off the weekend well, with the Plate final win. She was rewarded by a well received vote for the Anna Richards ‘Player of the Tournament’.

Canterbury on the other hand; badly missing Sandra Cocksedge, needed Ruby Tui to lead them. Reaching the plate final, they might not feel that they achieved their goals. As with the men (missing Sam Dickson) the region must concentrate on Sevens more, as much as they do for the Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup.

Playoff Games All High Intensity

Teams progressing through the knock-out stages were fine examples of those qualities. Right from the opening stages, the most determined, and most organized teams made the progression–Waikato men, Manawatu women were fine examples of form players, in comparison with teams who needed to make recovery from Day One dilemmas.

The Tasman Makos had some fine players, and often surprised. Captain Trael Joass was an influential player, always wanting to get involved. The huge presence of Waisea Lawabuka from Northland could not be allowed space, and while they could not get past Waikato, they were a danger if not contained.

Antonio Kirikiri scored a couple of fine tries, to cement his place in the national team–the full squad of 23 players is to be confirmed by the end of January–so all men outside the 13 contracted players, were out to put their hands up this weekend.

Sherwin Stowers was one who made the difference right at the end. Not only a senior figure, he was in a finishing mood today–securing a valuable finish in more than one match. The flair of young fliers is fine, but you couldn’t with out the other [Stowers and Hireme included].

2017 National Women’s and Men’s Sevens Cup Finals

Manawatu 17 Counties-Manukau 24

Big hits, huge pressure in the rucks needed both smart defense and sharp reaction. A fired up crowd made this a true contest. Defending champions, Manawatu would have a plan–to attempt to hold the top try scoring team to a bare minimum.

Portia Woodman opened the scoring (no difference there) and it was a tough-ask for Lauren Balsille all afternoon. They would often have a two-on-one approach, but with power in the middle of the field, Counties posed threats over the park. A well drilled team, with strike power over their opponents. Holding much of the territory, Counties were hot out of the blocks. It ended the first half 0-19 up.

A ‘Battle of the Titans’ Clash

It certainly did not disappoint. The contrasting styles showed, with Manawatu having tall players, who could cross the field quickly and they recovered from an early Woodman try, with Sarah Goss scoring. Could they mount a challenge with the limited time available?

Losing Cystal Mayes to injury, it meant the Manawatu girls needed to stay composed and score quickly. To their fans relief, twin yellow cards issued in a matter of seconds against Counties allowed for a try. 12-24, and with only a minute left, it would need a spark to light up the result. Seleca Winiata tried her damdest, a last gasp try set-up was magnificent play from the ‘fire cracker’ that gave them the slimmest of hopes.

In the end, a missed conversion cost. Even after a wonderful attempt to recover the kick-off from Goss, once the hooter had blown, Counties women had written their names for the first time on the Championship trophy…to go alongside the NPC title.

A great effort, right from day one for Counties-Manukau. Well done!

Waikato 7 Counties-Manukau 14

The two best teams in the final…it was a promoters dream match. All through the weekend, these sides were pushing the other sides around. Waikato more so, and with regional support, would it count in the final?

From an exchange of early kicks, it only took one tiny opportunity for sevens maestro Sevu Reece to write his name on the score sheet. Under the posts like a light, it was near perfect and might have cost other teams more, but Counties defied the loss of Augustine Pulu from last season.

A sweet move from Stowers broke the line; a touch forward for some, but after recycling the ball well, he was able to pierce the line before offloading wisely to Liam Daniela to make the kick easier. Smart play from the NZ sevens rep, as it tied the scores at 7-7. Waikato did break out in the last play, but a Counties hand ripped away possession from Zac Guildford before it cost them. He had been a great provider all day.

A close, and riveting first half (7-7) was just setting up fans for a great final seven minutes. That began with excellent covering defense from Isaac Te Tamaki, desparately needed to halt an early Counties attack. He was a man who new NZ7’s coach Clark Laidlaw pointed out for ‘a bright future’ in black.

Pressure Mounts On Both Sides

The fast ball movement was stellar in the final. At times it had the crowd baying for a crack in the defense to appear from either side. Such a tight match, Atu Masirewa made a break, but great reaction from Counties turned that around to create a try to Peni Buakula.

Great work to reach ahead 7-14, and their defense stepped up. Vuga Tagicakibau ripping a ball free to stop an attack was what a skipper needed to do. But for another turnover, that gave Waikato the final-seconds chance in the Cup final. Waikato put everything into spreading the ball, with it going right and then left. A gap opened for Masirewa to expose, but his loose inside pass only bounced away for the Counties player to run the ball dead. That was the final, won 7-14 by the reigning champions.

Big Reaction from the Crowd

Hoots of approval greeted the referees call to end the final. A large crowd had stayed through to the final minutes, with all the teams coming out to watch the match too. Well worth the wait, and it was a credit to the organizers to put on a well managed event.

Gallant losing captain Guildford was full of praise for the victorious Counties side. He commented his lungs were burning, from the non-stop action–as would his team mates from Waikato. For them, another year of losing in the final.

Victorious captain Tagicakibau was happy to achieve back-to-back titles, so it was very pleasing for him and the coaching staff. Asked what he called for in the last minute, “Ten seconds, give us ten seconds. Double-D boys.” It was the call from Counties that wrapped up the men’s Cup Final. Full credit!


Bayleys National Sevens Finals 2017

A great ending to the tournament, it was a highlight over a weekend of world-class sevens. Last Word On Rugby thanks Bay of Plenty rugby, Rotorua International Stadium and New Zealand Rugby for their hospitality over the two day event.

“Main photo credit”