Sevens: Exciting young players join Otago's 'good nucleus of local boys'

Three exciting players will be making their debuts for Otago in the national sevens tournament in Queenstown this weekend.

Michael Collins, Liam Edwards and Aleki Morris have been key players in the Otago Boys' High School First XV at different times over the past three years.

Collins played for New Zealand Schools in 2011, and last year was in the winning Taieri premier club team and made his debut for the Otago ITM Cup team.

Edwards has been a prolific scorer for the Dunedin premier club over the past two years and made a big impact when playing for South Canterbury in the Heartland Championship.

He topped the points scoring in the competition with 144 points, including 10 tries.

Aleki Morris was a dangerous midfield back and prolific try-scorer in the Otago Boys' team that reached the national final last winter. He scored 34 tries.

The other newcomers in the sevens team are rugged flanker Gareth Evans, Adam Knight, Apelu Alapati and Peter Breen, who had an impressive ITM Cup debut last year.

Roy Hawker lifted the performances in his first year as coach last year when Otago narrowly lost the final to Auckland.

Otago is in a tough pool with Hawkes Bay, which won the Central region competition, and North Harbour, runner-up in the North region. The other team is Wairarapa-Bush. Only two qualify for the top eight.

''Our first and only focus will be to get through the first day,'' Hawker said.

''Hawkes Bay and North Harbour will be gunning for the top half of the draw, as well.''

He praised the work of Otago manager Tim Colling, who had ''done a great job recruiting and looking after the local talent.

''We have a good nucleus of local boys. We just want to give them more confidence to believe in themselves and develop a strong work ethic.''

The Otago captain is Paul Grant, who also captained the ITM Cup team last season. He is an inspirational captain who likes to lead from the front.

Hawker is pleased players like Grant, who have played at semi-professional level, ''still want to stick around and give it everything in the amateur game. That is the character and quality of the players that Tony Brown and Phil Young have been able to keep in this province''.

The key playmakers are Breen, Brad Weber, Kieran Moffat and Matt Faddes, who all played in the national championship.

''They are classy footballers,'' Hawker said.

''But ... other guys are prepared to stand up as well. I have confidence in all 12 players. They can all do their roles incredibly well.''

Tony Ensor, a member of the wider Highlanders training squad, was not released by coach Jamie Joseph to play in the tournament.

Ensor and Evans are being watched by New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens, who was impressed by their attitude at the last national training camp.


Otago sevens
The team
Paul Grant (captain), Adam Knight, Gareth Evans, Kieran Moffat, Brad Weber, Apelu Alapati, Peter Breen, Aleki Morris, Matt Faddes, Michael Collins, Tumua Ioane, Liam Edwards.

Otago's pool games (all tomorrow): v Wairarapa-Bush, 12.50pm; v North Harbour, 3.30pm; v Hawkes Bay, 7.10pm.