It was a Counties Manukau bonanza in Rotorua yesterday as Counties Manukau lifted both the men's and women's titles at the national provincial sevens tournament.
The men edged Waikato 14-7 in a pulsating Cup final, but it was no more dramatic than the women's 24-17 Cup final victory over Manawatu, handing the union its first women's provincial sevens title and capping an extraordinary three months for the union. Both champion teams came together for an impromptu celebratory dance after the presentations.
Women's coach Davida White and most of her team achieved a notable double after winning the Farah Palmer Cup for the first time in October, while the union's Under 19s won the Championship section of the Jock Hobbs Memorial U19 tournament, while the senior men reached the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership semifinals.
The Counties Manukau men, well led by playmakers Vuga Tagicakibau, who scored their first try in the decider, and Jonathan Taumateine, utilised their speed and X-factor in Sherwin Stowers and Sione Molia to record their second successive Cup victory and fifth in all. The drizzle called for physicality and tactical nous and they delivered, but only after Waikato, led by former All Black Zac Guildford, had raced to a 7-0 via Sevu Reece, one of several to turn heads over the two days with his speed and skill.
The Joe Tauiwi Memorial trophy for the tournament MVP went to Tasman's Andrew Knewstubb, but others to impress were Hawke's Bay's Mason Emerson and Auckland's Joe Ravouvou.
The Counties Manukau women were dominant throughout the tournament, and they roared to a 19-0 lead in the decider, getting the ball swiftly into the hands of Portia Woodman, whose deadly finishing yielded a hat-trick of tries as she took the outside of her marker.
Manawatu stormed back into the contest with a Kristina Sue double, but they came up just short, despite a late numerical advantage.
The Anna Richards Trophy for the tournament MVP deservedly went to Bay of Plenty and Black Ferns Sevens star Kelly Brazier.
Happily, unlike on day one, there were few controversial cards dished out for high tackles under the new laws. North Harbour's Ethan Roots was shown a red card in the Bowl quarter-final against South Canterbury, but that was for a dangerous tackle on a player in the air. He copped a one-match suspension.
The North Harbour men did not have the best tournament, bowing out at the Bowl semifinal stage, but they did have the honour of one of their players giving the best TV interview since Nick Cummins was in his pomp. Their skipper, the veteran Luke Hamilton, gave some highly amusing answers, and a short song, to a Willie Los'e inquisition. Hamilton was not the only one to bring some levity to proceedings. The Northland team did a quick undie run after their defeat in the Plate semifinal to Auckland. It was in keeping with the relaxed nature of this important sevens event.
National 7s result from Rotorua, day two
Quarter-finals: Counties Manukau 22 Hawke's Bay 0, Taranaki 22 Auckland 17, Waikato 12 Northland 7, Wellington 14 Tasman 10
Semifinals: Waikato 31 Taranaki 7, Counties Manukau 15 Wellington 12
Final: Counties Manukau 14 (V. Tagicakibau, P. Buakula tries; Tagicakibau 2 con) Waikato 7 (S. Reece try, I. Te Tamaki con) HT: 7-7
Quarter-finals: North Harbour 19 South Canterbury 12, Bay of Plenty 26 Otago 17, Canterbury 19 Horowhenua Kapiti 0, Manawatu 29 Southland 19
Semifinals: Bay of Plenty 33 North Harbour 0, Canterbury 36 Manawatu 17
Final: Bay of Plenty 19 Canterbury 14
Semifinals: Otago 31 South Canterbury 7, Southland 17 Horowhenua Kapiti 12
Final: Otago 28 Southland 0
Semifinals: Auckland 14 Northland 5, Tasman 14 Hawke's Bay 7
Final: Auckland 28 Tasman 21 (ET)
Quarter-finals: Manawatu 26 Wellington 10, Waikato 19 Bay of Plenty 0, Counties Manukau 24 Otago 7, Auckland 17 Canterbury 5
Semifinals: Manawatu 12 Auckland 7, Counties Manukau 33 Waikato 0
Final: Counties Manukau 24 (P. Woodman 3, R. Wickliffe tries; H. Tubic 2 con) Manawatu 17 (K. Sue 2, S. Goss tries; S. Winiata con) HT: 19-0
11-12: North Harbour 19 Hawke's Bay 12
7-8: Wellington 21 Otago 19
3-4: Auckland 28 Waikato 5
Semifinals: Tasman 15 Hawke's Bay 0, Taranaki 22 North Harbour 17
Final: Taranaki 24 Tasman 19
Semifinals: Canterbury 19 Wellington 17, Bay of Plenty 33 Otago 5
Final: Bay of Plenty 17 Canterbury 12