New Zealand Women’s Sevens speedster Kayla McAlister proved to be a devastating weapon for Auckland after scoring a tiebreaking – and Waikato heart-breaking – try after the final hooter, to catapult her team straight into the semifinals of this year’s Bayleys National Sevens in Rotorua.
In the last women’s game of the day, Waikato led 12-0 at the break, only to have Auckland come back to tie 12-all just as the clocked clicked over to full time. Showing more of the form she had shown all day, and with the ball still in play, McAlister’s blistering pace set her apart from the rest of the pack. She dotted down to give Auckland the 19-12 victory over Waikato, who still have a shot in their playoff match against Canterbury tomorrow.
Meanwhile, defending women’s champions, Manawatu topped their pool to take the only other guaranteed semifinal spot, with Bay of Plenty and Counties Manukau to play each other for their chance at a semifinal.
In the men’s game, Taranaki, Auckland, Wellington and home town favourites Bay of Plenty have all topped their pools to secure a place in the men’s sevens playoffs for the Final of this weekend’s National Sevens in Rotorua.
In the cup quarterfinals, Taranaki will play Counties Manukau, defending champions Wellington will play Otago, Auckland play Waikato, and Bay of Plenty play Northland.
It’s the second year Bay of Plenty has hosted the Bayleys National Sevens at Rotorua International Stadium with thousands of people attending the competition’s festival and family-fun atmosphere.
More than 2000 spectators watched some of the old and some not so old well known faces of New Zealand rugby sevens during a feature Legends game at the halfway mark of today’s play.
The two teams – led by All Blacks loose forward Liam Messam and All Blacks Sevens captain DJ Forbes – delighted the crowd with their entertaining display of skills. While it was clear none of them had lost their feel for the ball, most were happy to be subbed off.
Those who took to the field – and some not for too long as the physical toll soon showed – included Dallas Seymour, Joeli Vidiri, Orene Aii, Karl Te Nana, Rico Gear, Matua Parkinson and All Blacks Sevens players Gillies Kaka, Tim Mikkelson and Sam Dickson and Scott Curry.
Among the crowd watching the real action were All Blacks Sevens Coach Sir Gordon Tietjens who noticed a marked improvement in some of the teams in action in both skills and fitness.
“It’s been really competitive out there today, there have been some surprises with some close results from some of the smaller unions. But a really good competitive first day.
“There is definitely some good, young sevens talent coming through.
“I’ve been looking for a couple of explosive forwards and there are some big boys out there which I’m really excited about. I’ve seen a couple of couple of exciting backs with pace and agility and that’s certainly what I need for my side as well. Tomorrow’s going to be the day where it all happens and they’ll have to produce what they did today and if all goes well, they’ll get named for our squad for Wellington.”
New Zealand Women’s Coach Sean Horan said he had been impressed and he too had noticed a marked improvement in the teams’ performances.
“I really noticed more of them were working well to keep the ball alive and that was great to see. There’s still some work to do in tackle technique, but yes, very excited about what we saw.
“There’s clearly been a change up in the quality of women’s rugby in the last couple of years, and there is a noticeable difference between those in the frame for the national contracted squad, and those who are just enjoying the game.
“What’s great to see is that there is a real, passion and enjoyment of the game out there, which is good for us,” he said.
Tomorrow’s play kicks off at 10.05am.
The women’s Cup Final kicks off at 4:55pm and the men’s Cup Final at 5:30pm.
For full results and full draw details, click here.