The Wanganui Sevens team is on the right track to getting back into the Bayleys 7s National tournament in Rotorua after they clean-sweeped their warmup tournament in Napier on Saturday.
Showing great defence and composure to come from behind in three of their four wins – two of which were off the final play – the Ace Malo-coached Wanganui shocked home side and tournament favourites Hawkes Bay 12-10 in their opening game.
They then faced Wairarapa Bush, who knocked them out of last year's Central Region tournament, and accounted for them 17-14, before beating Manawatu A 21-12 and then Manawatu B by the same scoreline.
Manager Darrell Robinson said Manawatu had split their main sevens group of around 13 players across their two squads, so Hawkes Bay was definitely the strongest individual team.
"The D [defence] was probably the biggest [factor]. Especially against the Manawatu teams.
"It was still a good result knocking them over."
As the tournament allowed rolling substitutions, Wanganui took 15 players, including three imports, and Malo will now have a tough job to whittle them down to a squad of 12 for the Central Region, while also factoring in players like Cody Hemi who could not attend Napier because he was in Australia.
Against Hawke's Bay, Wanganui were trailing 10-5 with time running out, with Jim Seruwalu having scored their try.
Young James Dorgan, who has had no major rugby in months after his club season for St Johns Whanganui Metro, made a big tackle and turnover to give Wanganui the ball, and Karl Pascoe was able to get over the line with Osea Tairogi making the winning conversion.
They backed up by scoring at the death to beat Wairarapa Bush, with the tries coming from John Kilisi, Ethan Robinson and Hamish Bennett, with Irishman Shandon Scott making one conversion.
Against Manawatu A, Wanganui were trailing 12-0, but then shut them out of the game while scoring three tries.
Robinson, Scott, and Shaq Waara got the five pointers, with Waara converting twice and Scott once, as they both took quick drop goals after they scored under the posts.
Wanganui then completed the set with the 21-12 win over Manawatu B, as Samu Kubunavanua scored two tries while Dorgan got the third, with the conversions coming from Waara, Kubunavanua and Scott.
Robinson said Kubunavanua showed no ill effects from his head knock in the Meads Cup final on October 28.
"He looks like he's getting pretty close to form.
"A little more fitness from those Fijian boys, but they're getting there."
Impressive on the day were Dorgan on debut, Scott working in the sweeper position, and loan player George Stratton – a product of Taihape and the younger brother of Canterbury halfback and NZ Provincial Barbarians representative Jack Stratton.
The Wanganui wider squad will now train for the next two weeks, with the Central Region tournament on December 9, where the top five teams will qualify for the nationals in Rotorua.