Sevens: Seventh place finish exceeds expectations

By Cameron Leslie

They went. They played. They delivered.

Northland's sevens team set a goal last week of making the top eight at the national sevens tournament in Queenstown, and they delivered.

The weekend's seventh placing was pleasing for team management, with Northland manager Brad Te Haara adding it was a vast improvement on last year's 13th.

"Topping our pool was probably the best result we could get from day one," Te Haara said.

Throughout Northland's build-up they had focused on hitting the ground running and after beating Waikato 17-7 in their first game, Northland let the foot off the throttle.

"We lost to Manawatu but were in a position to win," Te Haara said. "We didn't prepare well and that showed on the field. We improved in the second half but ultimately ran out of time."

Learning from their mistake, Northland prepared differently for their must-win match against the previously undefeated Southland.

"We went back to the hotel and went from there with the same routine we did for our first. In that second game [our] warm-up was sluggish and that equalled the result."

Te Haara said he thought Northland's 26-12 win over Southland was probably their best game of the tournament, after earlier filming Southland's match against Manawatu on an iPad to review.

Finishing top of their pool was meant to give Northland a slightly easier quarter-final, however, they drew eventual winners Taranaki and were put under pressure right from kick-off.

"Taranaki was the only game we were outplayed, they looked like they'd done a bit of homework on us and as a result we had no ball," Te Haara said.

Northland were then given the tough task of knocking over Wellington to progress to the plate final, eventually going down 22-14. Leaving Northland in seventh position out of 16.

Northland management paid particular tribute to both William Whetton and Dan Pryor, the latter playing on despite a neck injury in game one.

"Dan Pryor picked up a neck injury in the first game, but he played on and only missed three minutes of the last game.

"He just loaded up on pain killers so he was playing on pure ticker," he said.

Northland's player's player of the tournament was team man Ben Berridge for his support and work ethic.

Whetton was also named in Gordon Tietjens' New Zealand Emerging Players team that heads to Fiji to play a tournament on the weekend.

Elsewhere in the tournament, Taranaki came out on top as pre-tournament favourites Auckland were knocked out before the final.

It was a first national sevens championship for Taranaki, beating North Harbour 32-17, since they won the second of back-to-back titles in 1982.

The amber and blacks were somewhat under the radar going into the tournament, with many tipping Auckland, Harbour or home side Otago to take the honours.

Harbour would have been disappointed to fade after an otherwise impressive day.

They beat Auckland 21-19 in the battle of the bridge, then beat Bay of Plenty 24-14 in the semifinal.

- Northern Advocate

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