Waikato lose final as sevens curse continues
It was lying tantalisingly there to be broken, but in the end the Mt Maunganui curse had the final say yet again, as Waikato came up just short of the national men’s sevens title at the weekend.
Looking the form team of the weekend’s championship at Rotorua International Stadium and aiming to reclaim the crown they won two years back, Waikato had to settle for second place after defending champs Counties Manukau clung on 14-7 in the final on Sunday evening.
It continues a stunning 20-plusyear hoodoo which has seen no side able to become national champions after winning the unofficial lead-up tournament at Blake Park the weekend prior - where Waikato had seen off Counties 28-7 in the semifinals.
Waikato had had a brilliant sevens season, notching 15 wins from 15 in winning the Northern Region Sevens in Cambridge, the Mt Maunganui tournament, then getting to the final of the nationals.
With plenty of sevens nous in co-coaches Roger Randle and Waisake Masirewa, the players put on a fine showing at the weekend, with Zac Guildford cocaptaining the side. The former All Black’s workrate and option taking was impressive, and he had plenty of help from the likes of flyers Sevu Reece and Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara - who both starred in the Mitre 10 Cup last year - fellow Fijians Atu and Luke Masirewa, and Isaac Te Tamaki, who has been in and out of the All Blacks Sevens side.
Reece opened the scoring with a hack of a loose ball, a beautiful scoop-up and a 50-metre scorch to the line, before Sherwin Stowers hit back and made it a 7-7 halftime score.
The dependable Te Tamaki pulled off a try-saving tackle early in the second spell, and with both teams out on their feet, it was Counties who hit the lead through Peni Buakula.
Waikato had a penalty on halfway after the hooter, bursting through the middle of the park on tired legs, but a loose ball close to the line ended their hopes of sending the final to extra time.
Former All Black Zac Guildford led from the front well, but Waikato came up just short at the sevens nationals in Rotorua at the weekend.