Friday, 8 December, 2017
Sevens teams look to impress at Central Region tournament
Two new-look and youthful Taranaki men’s and women’s sevens teams will be out to hit the ground running when they contest the important Central Region Sevens tournament in Levin tomorrow.
The tournament doubles as qualifying for the Bayleys National Sevens, with the top five men’s teams and the top four women’s teams moving on to compete at the national championships, being held in Rotorua next month.
The Taranaki men’s team finished second at the Central Region Sevens last year, losing to Wellington in the final. This year they are the top seed in pool B and will play Wanganui, Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa Bush before the semifinals. Wellington, Manawatu, Horowhenua-Kapiti, and Poverty Bay make up pool A.
There is just one pool of five teams in the women’s competition, with only one team to miss out on the national championships. Taranaki are seeded third and have a bye first up before taking on top seed Manawatu, Wellington, Poverty Bay and then Hawke’s Bay.
Following the Dewar Shield club sevens, Taranaki men’s sevens coach Ben Souness named a wider squad of 25, which has been training three times a week and attending pre-season tournaments in preparation for the Central Region tournament.
Souness has now reduced the squad to 12 players, which is stacked with youth and speed. Led by captain Liam Blyde, who attended the New Zealand under-20 sevens development camp, the squad includes some exciting young players, most notably high school rugby standout and recent Taranaki Rugby Academy recruit Kini Naholo.
The Hasting Boys’ High School superstar scored 41 tries in 21 matches playing on the wing for his first XV last season and, along with older brother Meli, who is a Taranaki Development player and academy member, will offer plenty of speed out wide in Levin.
New Zealand sevens rep Lewis Ormond, who played Mitre 10 Cup rugby for Southland this year, returns to Taranaki and will provide plenty of experience as he looks to force his way back into the All Blacks sevens team competing in the world series, while Port Taranaki Bulls winger Latu Vaeno, who played for Otago on loan during the Mitre 10 Cup, gets his chance to impress.
As well as speed, the side also boasts strong, tough forwards, with Cole Blyde, Jack White and New Plymouth Boys’ High School captain Michael Loft all hardworking at the breakdown and around the field.
With a number of new players in the squad, there are some big names missing from the team that reached the semifinals of the national championships last season. Port Taranaki Bulls players Pita-Gus Sowakula and Kylem O’Donnell are training with the Chiefs, Iopu Iopu-Aso is now in Japan, Beaudein Waaka is recovering from injury, and Jackson Ormond is unavailable for selection.
Former New Zealand and England sevens international Warwick Lahmert is absent this weekend but will be available should Taranaki qualify for the nationals.
The 12-strong women’s team is also laden with youth. New coach Junior Togia has plenty of talent to work with, including youngsters Tiana Davison, Brooke Neilson, and Iritana Hohaia, who have all been named in the New Zealand under-17 sevens squad.
There is also plenty of experience, with Jessie Fowell and Casio Austin co-captaining the team and six of the side returning from last year, including Tara Blyde and Kate Parkinson.
But the team will be without Kayla Henry and Aroha Nuku, who both shone at the nationals last season as Taranaki won the bowl final in an extra-time thriller over Tasman.
Taranaki Men: Lewis Ormond, Michael Loft, Cole Blyde, Jack White, Ben Leng, Liam Blyde, Brent Landers, Latu Vaeno, Meli Naholo, Brayton Northcott-Hill, Jade Taylor, Kini Naholo.
Head coach: Ben Souness. Assistant coach: Josh Hamilton. Manager: Brendon Hart.
Taranaki Women: Tara Blyde, Karen Pullen, Elle Johns, Jessie Fowell, Tiffany Nuku, Caterina Poletti, Tiana Davison, Brooke Neilson, Casio Austin, Kate Parkinson, Iritana Hohaia, Lana Kingi.
Head coach: Junior Togia. Assistant coach: Patsy Matheson. Manager: Kayla Archer.