Rugby: Bay aims to be sevens heaven

By Peter White


Bay of Plenty rugby eyes will be on the Northern Regional Qualifier tournament in Auckland on Saturday, which will decide what teams go through to January's National Provincial Sevens.

Sevens has always had a high profile in the Bay but with the sport set to launch itself on the world at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the interest has intensified recently.

BOP Rugby CEO Mike Rogers says sevens will be extremely important to the union in the future.

"There is massive potential now for sevens to grow on the national and world stage and we are already seeing that happening on the local stage with more club and school games starting to occur," said Rogers.

"From a strategic point of view, sevens is really important for the union and potentially could create a point of difference for us.

"We are not a Super rugby base so it is a good way for us to distinguish ourselves from other provincial unions if we can grow that sevens programme.

"Traditionally we have been a quasi home of sevens, with Titch [Gordon Tietjens] and his activity with the New Zealand men's team being based here for so long.

"We also developed a provincial sevens tournament with Bay Engineering Supplies a few years ago that has become a significant event on the calendar."

The Bay union has taken a proactive stance on getting big events and tournaments staged at Mount Maunganui, which Rogers said will be of benefit to the local economy if they are held here.

"We have looked at it once sevens went to the Olympics and said there is a significant opportunity for sevens and given the climate and history, why not Bay of Plenty?

"So we are pushing hard for as much activity as possible. We have been shortlisted down to the last three to host the 2014 National Provincial tournament.

"Also on the international stage we want to get teams to come here. It is a great place to train and we have some great facilities."

Bay of Plenty men's coach Dean Jennings has an extensive knowledge of sevens as a player and he was involved with Tietjens' New Zealand programme as an analyst for 18 months, a period he says really sparked his interest in the game.

Jennings knows getting through Saturday's qualifier in Auckland is going to be a tough assignment but he is confident they will do so and then they can plan for an all out assault on the nationals in Queenstown.

"Target No1 is just to qualify and then obviously we would like to do really well at the nationals," said Jennings.

"Last year was a poor year so we need to improve on that but we have not thought too much past this weekend to be sure."

Jennings has a good mix of former internationals and secondary school stars in his squad to pick from, which gives him the right balance needed.

"There are two players in our team who are really specialist sevens players, and they are the older guys that have been around and played for New Zealand in Zar Lawrence and Nathaniel Walker.

"If I was being honest, I wasn't really thinking of picking them at the start of the sevens season but they have put their hands up in a major way at training and the club tournaments and have forced their hand that they needed to be in.

"They have been fantastic and with their experience have added much to the team, so they are going to be key for us," Jennings said.

"We have a squad of 22 including a couple of younger guys including Mason Walker from Rotorua Boys' and 17-year-old Dan Hollingshead [Tauranga Boys']. You need to be 18 to play at the nationals so we had to get an exemption so he can play.

"We had a few of the other younger Tauranga Boys' and Rotorua Boys' guys who came to training but they have been flat out with exams so we looked at it as a development programme and included a lot of the younger guys to come along and learn more about it for the future."

The women's team is in a less positive position after not fielding a rep team for five years until last season, so they are behind their main rivals as far as experience is concerned.

Coach Kevin Lee knows that makes his job harder but he is also looking to build a foundation for future sevens success.

"I think the squad we have is not too far off the mark and it is exciting to see the potential," said Lee.

"We have one young girl, Debbie Paine from Otumoetai College, who is 15 and has been training right through with us, and there are other schoolgirls coming along too.

"For us it is all about trying to get through the qualifiers this weekend.

"Only two teams get through and we have the hardest region with Auckland, Counties, Waikato, North Harbour and Northland.

"Realistically we are about 30 per cent chance but in the game of sevens if we play to our strengths and hold on to the ball, and they don't score many tries, we will be in the game."

Calli Turner, who has played NPC for the Bay since 2004, will captain a squad that is made up of talented athletes from many sporting codes.

"Our squad is made up of some girls who have never played before so coaches Kevin Lee and David Mays have done a great job getting us into shape," said Turner.

"Some have come from netball, touch and soccer so have had to learn the skills."

CEO Rogers is excited about the potential to attract female athletes to the sevens game.

"This is a new opportunity for us to capture women into our game and I think sevens is a great vehicle to do that.

"Some of the great athletes that are coming through the schools programme now have an opportunity to play rugby with the Olympics as a potential reward."


Squads


BOP Men

Jason Hona, Rangataua; Adam McGarvey, Rangataua; Elijah Nicholas, Whakatane Marist; Nathaniel Walker, Rangataua; Curtis Van Der Heeyden, Rotoiti; Ngatai Kingi, Rangiuru; Alex Jessop, Greerton Marist; Mason Walker, Rotorua Boys High; Josh Hall, Tga Sports; Phil Togotogorua, Tga Sports; Zar Lawrence, Mt Maunganui; Akira Mako, Rangataua Club.

BOP Women

Hana Tapiata, Calli Turner, Kate Henwood, Sasha Mahuika, Gemma Pearson, Kendra Reynolds, Eliza Stephens, Michelle Montague, Arna Wright, Toia Tiwha, Rhyleigh Hayes, Dolly Roberts.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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