Sevens: Auckland favoured to defend title

Auckland will be the team to beat at the national sevens tournament in Queenstown this weekend.

The defending champion has dominated the event since it moved to Queenstown in 2004 and has won the title in six of the nine years.

Auckland has a strong team that includes Joe Tupe and Gareth Williams-Spiers, members of Gordon Tietjens' national squad.

Other exciting players in the Auckland team are Ben Lam and captain Edwin Cocker, formerly of Otago.

Auckland, the top-ranked team, is in pool A with Wellington, Tasman and South Canterbury.

Key players in the Wellington team are Matt Proctor and Tauasosi Tuimavave.

The sevens competition takes on extra significance now that it has been confirmed as an Olympic sport in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Tietjens will be looking at players for this year's world cup in Russia and next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Otago, runner-up to Auckland last year, is ranked second. It has an exciting young team that includes Gareth Evans, Kieran Moffat and Brad Weber.

It is in a strong pool that includes Central region winner Hawkes Bay and North Harbour, which finished runner-up to Auckland in the Northern region.

Key players for Hawkes Bay will be Gillies Kaka, who played for the province in the ITM Cup, and Chris Eaton, who has played for the Hurricanes.

Two teams from each section qualify for play tomorrow. Third-ranked Waikato heads pool C from Manawatu, Southland and Northland.

The key Waikato player is Kylem O'Donnell, while William Whetton, Rhys Te Nana and former North Otago winger Whiria Meltzer look dangerous for Northland.

Canterbury is ranked fourth and heads pool D, alongside Taranaki, Counties-Manukau and Bay of Plenty.

Canterbury contains four players from the New Zealand squad - Sam Dickson, Kolio Hifo, Jamie Verran and Mark Jackman. Former Highlander Telusa Veainu is also in the side.

Taranaki has national squad member Warwick Lahmert and the experienced Mark Atkins in its side.

Bay of Plenty is led by former Alhambra-Union captain Matt Clutterbuck and could upset predictions. Its team includes talented players such as Nathaniel Walker, Jason Hona and Zar Lawrence.

Canterbury women have Black Fern Kelly Brazier in their squad and looks to have the strongest combination.

Canterbury won the women's tournament when it was last held in 2002.

This will be the 10th, and last, year the national sevens will be held in Queenstown. It shifts to Rotorua for the next two years.

The Webb Ellis Cup, the Bledisloe Cup and the Rugby Championship trophy will be on display.


National sevens
Today and tomorrow
Venue
: Queenstown Recreation Ground and Jack Reid Park, Arrowtown.

Finals (Queenstown, tomorrow): Shield, 4.40pm; bowl, 5.05pm; plate, 5.30pm; women's, 6.05pm; men's, 6.35pm.

Teams
Men:
Northland, North Harbour, Auckland, Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu, Wairarapa Bush, Wellington, Tasman, Canterbury, South Canterbury, Otago, Southland.

Women: Auckland, Waikato, Taranaki, Manawatu, Tasman, Canterbury.