Gutsy girls shine at rugby sevens

The Kaitaia College girls played their hearts out at the Condors Rugby Sevens, showing they are the equals of any school in the country.

The 26th edition of the national secondary schools sevens tournament was at Kelston Boys High School in Auckland during the weekend.

The tournament showcases the best sevens talent from throughout New Zealand.

For first time, girls were included, setting a benchmark for the Kaitaia school to aspire to in the years to come.

Just to be involved in the event was a big deal. Sevens legend Eric Rush addressed players from the 32 teams at the start of the competition, urging them to strive for the Olympic Games in 2016.

The Kaitaia girls were there because they finished top in the Northland secondary schools rugby sevens tournament.

Despite that, the team had little preparation for the tournament as it was only notified it had qualified late in term three, leaving the players with two weeks to train.

They were not prepared for the level of sevens they saw being played in Auckland and lost their opening pool games, 15-0 to Epsom Girls and 19-5 to Wainuiomata, but didn't give up and were not embarrassed.

The coaches decided to change the game plan to try to make use of their bigger girls for the third pool game against highly-rated Southland Girls' High School.

Te Ruawai Herbert Brown stepped up in this game, showing her strength to suck in the Southland players and create gaps elsewhere.

The tactic worked and with a minute remaining it was 14-5 to Kaitaia.

Southland made a break and was over the line and almost certain to score when Claudia McMeekin came from nowhere to attack the ball, causing a knock-on and ruining Southland's chance of a late comeback.

No one expected Kaitaia to win and there was a delay as points were recounted to decide the teams which qualified for post-section play.

The injury toll was mounting for Sunday's programme. In the first three games, Kaitaia lost Phoenix Pivac, Shanee Poharama and Atarangi Heta to injury, leaving them with two substitutes for the quarterfinal.

Kaitaia faced James Cook College, a much bigger team, in a bowl quarterfinal. Kaitaia played its best game and came from behind to score on the full-time hooter to level at 12-all and force the game into extra time.

James Cook, illegally, brought back a playmaker in extra time who had been subbed off, handing Kaitaia the win by default.

Amid the celebrations, Justice Karena was taken to hospital where a serious concussion was diagnosed, leaving Kaitaia with one substitute in the semifinal against Onehunga.

The scores were level at halftime and when Dayna Harris was subbed on, Kaitaia had no subs left.

When Nita Kaaka had an asthma attack in the second spell, Kaitaia was forced to play with six girls.

They dug deep and tried to keep up with Onehunga but were unable to maintain their structure and finally went down 24-17.

Kaitaia finished 12th of 16 teams. The players all contributed and the standouts were Arerina Ihaka-Pereira, who scored several skilful tries.

Jesse Fleat showed a natural talent for sevens, despite playing for the first time, while Herbert Brown displayed her strength, power and skill.

Captain Claudia McMeekin led the team with heart and ability and made some outstanding plays.

Feilding High School swept aside all opposition to win the inaugural Girl's Foundation Cup, beating a spirited Mahurangi College in the final, 27-12.

The national XVs champion conceded only one try in pool play - beating Tamaki College 24-5, James Cook HS 40-0 and Lincoln HS 34-0 - before blanking Epsom Girls' 26-0 and Hamilton GHS 20-7 in the play-offs.

Kelston Boys' High School grabbed a third successive BNZ Condor Sevens title.

The hosts triumphed over Mt Albert Grammar School, 35-10, to follow up wins in the national secondary school sevens in 2010 and 2011.

The Northland representatives, Whangarei Boys High School, lost to Westlake College 24-19 in the shield semifinals.

- Northland Age

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