Un­beaten Ax­e­men cut up ri­vals

The Wellingtonian - - Sport - JAMES PAUL

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.’’

Sai Dau­ni­bau con­tin­ues to play rugby, de­spite los­ing his left arm in a bus crash four years ago. PHOTO: MARTY MELVILLE

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