Sevens: Luckless Bay hope to snatch first title

Bay of Plenty will be hoping they can break their run of near misses and claim the title of New Zealand's top men's sevens team when the revamped national sevens tournament plays out in Queenstown on January 12-13.

Twenty-two teams will be at the tournament, with women competing for the first time in 10 years.

Sixteen men's and six women's provincial sevens teams have qualified to compete in the annual national tournament following three regional tournaments (Southern, Central and Northern regions) held in November and December.

The tournament moves to Rotorua for 2014 and 2015, where it was previously held in 1997 and 1998, and Bay of Plenty fans would love to support their hometown heroes next year as defending champions.

But history is not on the Bay's side as they have never lifted the trophy as winners despite making many finals since the inaugural event in Auckland in 1975.

Marlborough won the first two national sevens tournaments held in Auckland and Christchurch, and the spoils of victory have been well spread around the country since - except to the Bay of Plenty, where sevens has always had a huge following.

How well the Bay team may go in Queenstown can be gauged this Saturday at Blake Park, Mount Maunganui, when they come up against some of the country's top teams such as Waikato, Wellington, Counties Manukau, Auckland and North Harbour in the Bay Engineers Supplies Provincial Sevens.

Bay of Plenty's women's team missed qualifying for the Queenstown sevens from the toughest northern group and they are in a rebuilding phase after not fielding a team for several seasons.

But interest in sevens has taken a giant leap among women rugby players nationwide since the news it will be an Olympic sport in 2016.

New Zealand Rugby Union general manager professional rugby, Neil Sorensen, said the emphasis on striving for gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro had generated a lot of interest from women in the sevens game.

"This is an exciting opportunity for the women's teams with real competition for spots in the New Zealand women's sevens side," Sorenson said.

Both All Blacks Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens and New Zealand women's sevens coach Sean Horan will attend the tournament.

It will be the 10th year Queenstown has hosted the event, with matches to be played at the Queenstown Recreational Ground and Jack Reid Park in Arrowtown.

"This is a remarkable achievement, and thanks to the efforts of the Sevens with Altitude organising committee, they have developed this tournament into a strong, competitive and popular event on the rugby calendar," Sorensen said.

The Webb Ellis Cup will be on display at the tournament along with the Bledisloe Cup and Investec Rugby Championship trophy.

The teams competing in the tournament are:

Men: Northland, North Harbour, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu, Wairarapa Bush, Wellington, Tasman, Canterbury, South Canterbury, Otago, Southland.

Women: Auckland, Waikato, Taranaki, Manawatu, Tasman, Canterbury.

The tournament will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 1, with the first match kicking off on Saturday, January 12, at 10.30am.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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