It was not a welcome return to the Bayleys National Sevens for Wanganui after they were eliminated in the Shield semifinals yesterday without a win on the board to show for the weekend in Rotorua.
Unlike two years ago when Wanganui won the Shield final by taking out their last two games, this time the squad was overmatched against all Mitre 10 Cup and Premiership opposition, and struggled with kickoff retentions and keeping seven men on the field at all times.
Nonetheless, there were segments in the games against their much more highly lauded competition that Wanganui played with some good structure.
It can never be taken away from Wanganui and Ollie Brosnahan that they scored the opening try of the entire tournament against perennial favourites Counties Manukau, but that and a good opportunist try by Hamish Bennett right after halftime were the bright spots in a 45-12 loss.
A charge by captain Tremaine Gilbert saw Wanganui get a penalty, and from good field position Brosnahan, Osea Tairogi and Gilbert all worked it up, with George Stratton nearly breaking through.
Grayson Tihema, who probably had the best weekend, fired out a big pass to Gilbert and Brosnahan was put over unmarked to shot the multiple-time champions.
However, Counties Manukau's soon showed they have a lot more pace and execution, as they attacked Wanganui's short kickoff and Peni Buakula put a step on the outside and dashed away.
Wanganui soon lost Timoci 'Jim' Seruwalu to the sinbin for a scragging high tackle, which is strictly enforced at Sevens level, and Counties Manukau's Akuila Rokolisoa took the pass midfield and jinked through the line for 12-5.
Wanganui looked to break out with Tairogi making a good run, but the ball was spilled and Rokolisoa put up a chip kick which bounced back to his team, with Buakula taking the pass to get his second try, two minutes after the halftime whistle.
Wanganui were not out of it when they kicked long for the second half and when Counties Manukau tried to spread it the inside pass fell perfectly for Bennett to snatch and race away for 17-12.
But Counties just stepped up another notch as they ran outside Wanganui's flank and Jimmy Brody accepted the pass to flash over immediately.
Rokolisoa put up another perfect chip kick over Tihema and regathered it to run under the posts and it was 31-12 just like that.
Wanganui began to give up penalties and lost Brosnahan to a red card when he came back from a bump-off and got his shoulder positioning too high.
Rokolisoa dummied into a gap and threw the over shoulder pass to Liam Daniela, who dashed away to score.
The match soon went back to even numbers after Wanganui's John Kilisi made a good run and Counties Manukau got a yellow card for a foot trip, but Ethan Robinson lost the ball back and Buakula disappeared on the outside to run 65m for his hat trick.
Wanganui then moved to the No2 field to face Taranaki, and despite having done well against them in the previous weekend's practice games, Wanganui were outdone on the big stage, losing 42-5.
It did not get any easier in the last match of Saturday against Waikato, and after having first use of the ball, Wanganui hardly ever saw it again in the 45-5 hammering.
Issac Te Tamaki scored Waikato's opening try with a burst of speed, getting around sweeper Shandon Scott to go under the posts, and then Counties swooped on a lost ball by Seruwalu for Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara to thread his way through Gilbert and Tairogi for the try.
Waikato kept their kickoffs right on the money for their chasers, as Bennett and Gilbert struggled to secure the ball or batted the bounce back only to see it snatched up immediately by the opposition.
From this steady stream of possession, Sevu Reece fended off two tacklers to score for 21-0 at halftime.
Claiming kickoffs continued to be a nightmare in the second half as Waikato swept to the line and despite a good George Stratton tackle, the ball was recycled and Tyler Campbell put the step on and scored.
The next kickoff went out and from the lineout, Waikato spread to both sidelines and Leigh Bristowe dashed in for 31-0.
Bristowe had a double seconds later as Bennett again could not get the kickoff but Waikato veteran Dwayne Sweeney did, setting play rolling again for the sixth try.
While Waikato gained another kickoff from Gilbert, this time they spilled it and Wanganui had a rare chance in their half, with Karl Pascoe pinning the ears back but being driven out and then penalised for tapping the ball away.
Campbell stepped Robinson midfield and then hit Liam Coombes-Fabling with the pass on the run around for him to make it 45-0.
Wanganui showed what they could have done if they just could have caught the kickoffs as Gilbert secured one and although they soon lost it, Wanganui won the scrum tighthead and got a penalty for a high tackle with Sweeney being sinbinned.
Working forward from another penalty, Robinson had a go at the line and was held up, yet freed his hands for Tihema to dive over well after fulltime.
It did not get any better on Day 2 in the Bowl semifinals against Canterbury, who obviously took note of Wanganui's kickoff issues the day before and likewise got their drop-outs pinpoint in the first half, before Wanganui recovered with a much stronger second seven minutes to lose 29-10.
Daniel Fransen scored in the first 15 second as the kickoff struck Bennett's back and fell for the chasers, and then Gilbert could only pop the ball to the Cantabrians coming through and Amanaki Nicole was eventually on the end of the chain for 10-0.
Canterbury went longer on their third kickoff but Wanganui immediately blew the possession as a passing exchange between Stratton, Seruwalu and Bennett somehow ended up in Nicole's hands for his second try.
Regaining the next kickoff, Canterbury again lost the ball but soon turned it over for Nicole to step his way through and wait for team mate Cam Russell to give a free pass under the posts for a gift score.
But from here things started to turn around as Canterbury finally spilled their attempted kickoff regather and Seruwalu made a big run deep into their half, finding Tihema who secured a penalty.
Stratton attacked the line from the tap, with Seruwalu doing the ruck cleanout, and Tihema spied the half gap to sneak through and then crawl to the line for 22-5 at halftime.
Wanganui would play with much more determination in the second half, with Pascoe charging at the corner post but being driven out at the last step, injuring his shoulder.
Seruwalu was lost for his second yellow card of the tournament after scragging the Canterbury halfback around the neck, but Stratton and Elijah Ah-Chong showed good defence to bundled the Cantabrians out.
After Wanganui got back to seven men, Stratton was then hurt coming into a tackle, but the referee strangely let play continue and with another extra gap in the line, Jesse Houston took an overhead pass to score.
Again in a match, Wanganui had the final say as Kilisi made a burst and got the penalty for a high tackle, and Tihema showed the ball to the defence before stepping through and flicking the pass inside for Robinson to score a fine try.
The loss moved Wanganui into the lowest tier Shield semifinals, but they still did not find the opposition getting easier, as they lost their last match to Northland 38-12 on the No2 field.
Kilisi scored a converted try in the first half and Seruwalu added another score in the second.