Rugby: Atkins set to make big splash

By Shane Hurndell

If Mark Atkins' rugby skills are as good as his history ones he will be a big asset to the Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby side this season.

Atkins, the hat-trick hero from Taranaki's 32-17 win against North Harbour in last month's final of the national Sevens in Queenstown, arrived in the Bay yesterday to begin a one-year contract with the Hawke's Bay union.

The former New Plymouth Boys' High School captain had no trouble recalling the outcomes of the three fixtures he had for the New Plymouth 1st XV against the Napier Boys' High School 1st XV from 2007-'09.

In fact, Atkins, 21, even remembered the score from two of them. The former Otago under-19 and colts representative also remembered his Hawke's Bay teammates in the title-winning 2009 Hurricanes Schools side.

They were Brad Weber, a member of the Napier family he is staying with, Gareth Evans, Ashton Tuck, Billy Ropiha and Magpies and Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna.

The son of former Canterbury No 8 Dale Atkins, Atkins, said it was easy to choose Hawke's Bay "to give rugby a good crack" ahead of Otago.

"Otago isn't the place to be for it because of the environment ... it's a party town," Atkins said.

"I wasn't getting any opportunities through the Otago union and no feedback. I was getting a bit more positive feedback from the Bay union."

A former Dunedin Sharks clubmate of Weber, Evans and Tuck, Atkins had been offered a Hawke's Bay union academy contract when he left school in 2009 by player development manager Joe Payton but at that time starting his physical education degree at Otago University was his priority. Payton and Weber's father and Magpies manager Neil Weber have been in regular contact since then.

"I still have to finish my degree but I've decided to make rugby my main focus this year. The aim is to play for the Magpies and the Hawke's Bay Sevens teams this year. If I can run out for the Hawke's Bay Magpies and play a few minutes in the ITM Cup I'll be a happy man," Atkins said.

He attended a couple of Gordon Tietjens' national Sevens training camps last year.

"They were a good introduction to the world of fitness ... pretty full on. They provided a good gauge of a person's athleticism," Atkins recalled.

When Atkins isn't playing or training for rugby he enjoys surfing and tennis.

He will play his club rugby for Clive and attended his first training session with the club last night.

Magpies coach Craig Philpott is predicting Atkins to be "damaging ball-running No 8 for the Magpies."

He also has the potential to provide cover at blindside flanker.

Manager Weber described Atkins as "motivated good young bloke."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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