Sevens: Atkins spurs Taranaki to long overdue national title

Former Dunedin loose forward Mark Atkins inspired Taranaki to a long overdue win in the sevens in Queenstown last night.

Atkins, who played for the Dunedin club as recently as last year, scored a hat-trick in the 32-17 win over North Harbour in the final.

It was a first national sevens championship for Taranaki since it won the second of back-to-back titles in 1982.

The amber and blacks were somewhat under the radar going into the tournament, with many tipping Auckland, Harbour or home side Otago to take the honours.

But with Atkins and Seta Tamanivula providing power, mop-headed Warwick Lahmert pulling the strings, Beudein Waaka showing his pace and Heiden Bedwell-Curtis and Jackson Ormond providing valuable assistance, Taranaki proved to have the perfect team.

It streaked to a 17-0 lead at halftime, capitalising when Harbour lost Joshua York to the sin bin for a nasty spear tackle on Lahmert.

Atkins then had his second and third tries and, at 27-0, it was game over. Harbour scored a couple of consolation tries but the evening belonged to the 'Naki.

Lahmert credited the side's patience and work at the breakdown for the victory.

''We had the same game plan all day and it obviously worked,'' he told Sky Sport after the final.

Taranaki had co-coaches Ben Sounness and former Southland back Willie Rickards, both of who have played for national coach Gordon Tietjens.

''No-one expected us to get this far but those two made sure we had the talent and the skills to do it. They've been awesome,'' Lahmert said.

Harbour would have been disappointed to fade after an otherwise impressive day. It beat Auckland 21-19 in the battle of the bridge, then beat Bay of Plenty 24-14 in the semifinal.

David Raikuna was a one-man band at times, though Tevita Li showed outstanding pace and Kyle Nu'uali'itia was useful.

The underachiever of the weekend was probably Auckland. The defending champion was tipped as the pre-tournament favourite but did not even qualify for the major semifinals.

Auckland, stacked with athletes who seemed more concerned with individual glory than constructive team play, barely squeezed past South Canterbury on the opening day, then stumbled to North Harbour in the first knockout round.

Recovering to pip Southland 26-12 and then beat Wellington 40-20 in the plate final was probably cold comfort for the glamour boys.

Southland shaped as something of a Cinderella story for a brief patch.

The Stags, who have always been as warmly supported as Otago in Queenstown, opened with a win over Manawatu, and then outplayed Waikato.

Inspired by Auckland ring-in Gareth Williams-Spiers, the experienced Bryan Milne, towering Fijian Josh Seru and talented playmakers Scott Eade and Taylor Adams, Southland led Bay of Plenty 12-0 yesterday before fading to lose 28-19.

Another loss, to Auckland in the plate semifinal, brought an unfortunate end to what had been a promising tournament.

Hawkes Bay, another side which promised much but did not quite deliver, thumped Manawatu 38-7 in the bowl final, while Counties-Manukau beat a disappointing Canterbury side 27-12 in the shield final.

Women's sevens made a welcome appearance at the tournament, with a round robin featuring six teams followed by a straight final.

Manawatu was a class act, winning all six of its round robin games before flattening Waikato 36-17 in the final.

Selica Winiata was the star performer for Manawatu, backed up by Hayley Hutana.