Unbeaten Axemen cut up rivals
They’ve been crowned the country’s top under-12 rugby team, having gone through the season unbeaten.
That’s enough on its own to make the Wellington Football Club juniors unusual – but they also did all this with a one-armed winger.
The club, all of whose teams are known as the Axemen, won the NZ Junior Rugby Festival in Taupo¯ last weekend, clinching the title in a hard-fought final against Pakuranga.
Trailing 21-24 with five minutes to go, coach Paul Bracewell pulled his players into a huddle for a chat.
‘‘I looked at all the kids, and you could see the determination in their eyes.’’
The boys scored a converted try to win the game 28-24.
A regular feature of the team throughout their unbeaten season has been right-wing Sai Daunibau, who had his left arm amputated in 2013 after being hit by a bus while visiting relatives in Fiji.
‘‘To the best of our knowledge, Sai was the only kid in the Taupo¯ tournament with a physical disability,’’ team manager Des Gittings said.
‘‘But the boys and coaches don’t see him as having a disability of any sort; he runs, he scoops, he scores.
‘‘The rugby ball to Sai is like a pen to the poet. He can pluck the ball out of the sky, or simply scoop it up from the ground with ease.’’
Gittings was proud of his team’s camaraderie and empathy.
‘‘The trip away was a good experience for the boys to learn how Sai deals with everyday things – shoelace tying, or eating a bowl of Weetbix standing up.
‘‘These things don’t matter when you have a great team around you.’’
News of the boys’ success reached former Axeman Vaea Fifita, now an All Blacks flanker, who sent congratulations.
Bracewell said: ‘‘The emotional tension from both sides, with such a well-fought final, it was very fortunate for us to get the win because it doesn’t always go your way.’’
The tournament was effectively their swansong, with many of the boys likely to play rugby for their respective secondary schools next year.
‘‘Some of these guys will be playing against each other next year,’’ Gittings said. ‘‘It is the end of an era.’’