The Bay of Plenty men's sevens team have punched above their weight at the Bayleys National Sevens tournament in Rotorua, progressing to the semifinals for the second straight year. The Bay were seeded ninth going into the tournament but progressed all the way to the final four before losing their semifinal to Counties Manukau 31-10 yesterday. The young Bay team also recorded the comeback of the tournament scoring three late tries to beat Taranaki in their quarter-final 27-26.
It was the third year on the trot the National Sevens has been held at the Rotorua International Stadium featuring the best provincial sides in the country.
The national titles went to Counties Manukau, who defeated North Harbour 54-14 in the final of the men's division, while Manawatu took out the women's title beating Wellington 26-19. National selectors, including All Blacks Sevens coach Sir Gordon Tietjens, were out and about at the tournament looking for talent to boost their squads ahead of upcoming world series events and the all-important Rio Olympics. Bay men's captain Matt Axtens said his team did the province proud in front of their home support.
"It was definitely a goal of ours to make the final, and go one better than last year, but to make the semis is pretty good. In that quarter-final, the boys showed a lot of grit and determination and put a lot of pride in the jersey," he said.
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Axtens said they really wanted to win their first pool match against Northland on Saturday and after they achieved that they got rolling in the tournament: "Our goal was to beat Northland in that first game, they beat us by 30 points the week before [in Mount Maunganui], and that was our sole aim. Then after we ticked that box we were gone, we got another win and it just kind of snowballed for us."
With plenty of young players, Axtens said they had potential to come back even better again next year. "Leading up to the nationals I think the average age was about 21, so to get Matty Clutterbuck and Zar Lawrence in was a huge help for us, they are old heads who know how to play the game, know how to calm the boys, and you mix that with a bit of individual spark and talent and we have a good mix."