When it comes to sevens rugby, speed is one of the most valuable commodities and the Bay of Plenty women's team have it in spades.
On Saturday, the team finished third at the Northern Region Sevens in Cambridge, with three wins and two losses, to book a spot at the TECT National Sevens on their home turf in Tauranga on December 15-16.
A feature of their play throughout the tournament was their willingness to spread the ball wide, despite miserably wet conditions, and the devastating speed with which they attacked once in space.
Captain Rebecca Kersten, who has spent time in the Black Ferns Sevens development team, was a standout. She scored at least one try in every game and was a constant threat on the wing, regularly leaving defenders in her wake as she took off on the outside.
Their overall placing could have been higher if not for a slow start against Auckland in their first game. Trailing 24-7 shortly after halftime, Bay of Plenty found their feet and mounted a comeback through an Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly double, but it was too little too late as they fell to a 24-21 loss.
In their second game they made short work of North Harbour, scoring five tries on the way to a 27-5 victory. Counties Manukau were also dispatched comfortably, Bay of Plenty cruising to a 28-19 win.
The fourth match, against rivals Waikato, was a chance for the Bay of Plenty women to show they can dig deep. Trailing 21-12 and down to six players after Kiani Tahere was shown a yellow card, Bay of Plenty were under the pump. They defended their own line desperately, forced a turnover and Kersten raced the length of the field to score a converted try on fulltime.
That try did nothing more than reduce the deficit to 21-19, but was a great example of the never-say-die attitude this Bay of Plenty side plays with.
In their final game of the tournament, against Northland, the Bay of Plenty women put on a show. They scored seven unanswered tries as they romped home to a 39-0 victory. Kersten, Kororia Heyblom and Mahina Paul scored two tries each while Tynealle Fitzgerald, fresh off her Youth Olympics gold medal sevens win, scored the other.
Head coach Rodney Gibbs was pleased with the overall effort and excited to see what his side could achieve at nationals.
"We came out of the blocks a bit slow, which was a good learning experience, but once we got a bit of rhythm going I was pretty happy. It's been a good day and I think we've all learned a lot, the losses were by one or two points so nothing to get too worried about."
The most pleasing aspect of his side's play was their "intent".
"I think it got better as the day went on and the girls got more comfortable with the game and what we're trying to achieve, and probably just playing with each other a bit more."
Gibbs was impressed but not surprised by the desire shown in the game against Waikato.
"It shows good character, but the girls have worked really hard and we sort of expect that. It gave us some good learnings about playing with six players, it's tough."
He said Kersten was steadily developing as a leader.
"She's a smart player and she has a good knowledge of the game. She played over in Japan for the off-season, so she's played a lot of rugby. The challenge today was for her to grow that on the field and I think she did that really well."
Bay of Plenty Women's Results
Bay of Plenty 21-24 Auckland
Bay of Plenty 27-5 North Harbour
Bay of Plenty 28-19 Counties Manukau
Bay of Plenty 19-21Waikato
Bay of Plenty 39-0Northland
Northern Region Sevens Women's Placings
3. Bay of Plenty
4. Counties Manukau
5. North Harbour