BY PETER JONES
Tasman’s men are the national sevens champions.
The country’s newest union ticked off another box in Tauranga in the weekend when they took out the men’s title in a thrilling final against Counties Manukau.
Previously Marlborough had won the inaugural national sevens crown in 1975, then repeated the effort in 1976, but this was the first win for the merged union, which was founded in 2006.
The South Island champions began the weekend with three wins on Saturday, beating Wellington 24-10, Northland 40-7 and South Canterbury 26-7 to top Pool C.
Counties Manukau and Waikato were also unbeaten heading into Sunday’s play-off matches, but it was a gritty Taranaki side that Tasman took on first, in the quarter-finals.
The game looked to be slipping away from the Mako before a late surge levelled proceedings at 19-19. Extra time was required to find a winner and it was the experienced playmaker Jesse Pitman who broke the deadlock with a try after two minutes of overtime.
In the semi-finals, Tasman met North Harbour and turned on a scintillating show of patterned, unstoppable sevens.
They led 28-0 at halftime and went on to a 33-7 victory, dynamic winger Timoci Tavatavanawai scoring twice to take his tally to six tries for the weekend.
In the other semi, five-time champions Counties Manukau downed Wellington 12-10 in a nail-biter to claim the other final berth.
The decider was a tight affair, which Tasman dominated through the early stages. Denying their northern rivals’ possession, they went to a 12-0 lead at halftime with tries to Pitman and Sam Chamberlain and James Lash conversion.
The Steelers raised their game in the second half but staunch and sometimes desperate defence by the Mako held their dangerous rivals to one converted try, the final whistle signaling a 12-7 win and sparking wild celebrations among the Tasman contingent.
Playmaker Lash was named tournament MVP at the ensuing prize-giving, but it could have gone to various members of the winning crew.
Imposing forward Te Puoho Stephens, Tavatavanawai, Pitman, who ran the cutter alongside Lash, the blockbusting Michael Vaeno, Erenimo Tau and Chamberlain formed the basis of the starting line-up.
Also in the Sam Gibbens-coached squad were Varani Komaisavai, Fletcher Matthews, Falaula Fotu Moala, Graham Urquart and Stein Schreiber.
Co-captain Lash said the side were determined to give a good account of themselves after being beaten in the 2017 final.
“Last year we lost to Otago in the final so this year we wanted to go one better. We have put in a lot of hard work over the last few months and the boys – the family – have come out today and put in a huge performance all day, so it’s just awesome.”
There was more silverware for the Tasman contingent to bring home with the Mako women picking up the Bowl title, meaning they finished ninth overall.
They produced a stunning effort to overcome North Harbour 24-5 in the Bowl decider, underlining their growing potential as well.
Skipper Jess Drummond was elated with the result.
“We have a really young team and haven’t qualified for the nationals for a long time … so to have worked really hard to be here today, that’s what I am most proud of.”
Manawatu took out the women’s Cup final, beating Waikato 12-7 in another close encounter.