Rugby Sevens: Pulu leads Counties Manukau offensive

By Nigel Yaldenin in Rotorua

Auckland's Akira Ioane is tackled by Bay of Plenty's Mason Walker at the National Sevens in Rotorua. Photo / Photosport
Auckland's Akira Ioane is tackled by Bay of Plenty's Mason Walker at the National Sevens in Rotorua. Photo / Photosport

Most attention might be on Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam but there are plenty of other well-known players staking a claim to play sevens at the Rio Olympics and many of them were on show at the national sevens in Rotorua yesterday.

One of them was two-test All Blacks halfback Augustine Pulu.

The 26-year-old had little pedigree in the sevens game before playing for the New Zealand sevens side in Dubai in December but has adapted quickly to the sport.

That was clear yesterday as he helped his Counties Manukau side to three impressive wins on day one of the nationals.

They overpowered Mid Canterbury 47-5 to start the day, before scoring 49-unanswered points against Wanganui then dismantling North Harbour 26-5 to finish top of their pool and set up a quarter-final against Manawatu.

It's not something Pulu ever thought he would get a taste of, with the Chiefs' Super Rugby campaign due to kick off next month.

"I never thought I'd have this opportunity to come here because of Super Rugby," Pulu said. "The guys at the Chiefs have supported me to come here. It's always good to have the coaches behind you."

Pulu hopes that support will see him all the way to gold in Rio but, for now, success in Rotorua is the target.

"We were saying it in the huddle. Some teams show up on day one and then day two they're not there," he said. "We'll take some confidence into tomorrow but we know we'll need to amp it again."

Known for their attacking prowess, it was Counties Manukau's defence yesterday that pleased coach Daryl Suasua.

"We put a lot of emphasis on that area ahead of the tournament," he said. "From the start of the campaign right up to regionals we did nothing on attack and everything was around defence."

It's a facet they will need today to repel the challenges that will come, most notably from neighbours Auckland.

After being virtually non-existent in the blue-and-whites' 38-5 win over South Canterbury, Akira Ioane showed against Northland (40-7) then Bay of Plenty (40-12) what an outrageous talent he is with some powerful runs and delightful offloads with defenders hanging off him. Auckland captain Rocky Khan also produced three quality performances.

Fellow pool winners and defending champions Waikato, Taranaki and last year's beaten finalist Wellington also showed impressive form. The women's competition was also even, highlighted by the fact there were no unbeaten teams on day one.

Six teams finished with three win-one loss records, meaning points differential was used to establish a top three in both pools.

Counties Manukau bounced back from a surprise loss to Wellington midway through the day to defeat Waikato in their final game, jumping to the top of Pool A in the process.

Canterbury ultimately topped Pool B, thanks to Manawatu shocking previously undefeated Auckland 17-12 and their own 50-0 demolition of Wairarapa Bush.

Auckland's disappointment at sliding to third in Pool B was compounded by New Zealand representative Kayla McAlister limping off the field in their final match of the day.

Draws

Men's quarter-finals: Auckland v Wellington, Waikato v North Harbour, Counties Manukau v Manawatu, Taranaki v Bay of Plenty.

Women's playoffs: Wellington v Auckland, Manawatu v Waikato.

Playoff byes: Canterbury, Counties Manukau.

- Herald on Sunday

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