Standout Otago performer and one of the players of the
tournament Brad Weber makes yet another run at the national
sevens in Queenstown yesterday. Photo by Joe Allison.
Otago arguably fielded the player of the tournament but
it was denied a fairytale exit from Queenstown yesterday.
The home side appeared on track for an inaugural title in the
abbreviated form of the game in the 10th and final national
tournament to be held in the resort.
The script was spoiled by Taranaki, which scored three tries
to one to beat Otago 17-7 in the semifinal.
Once, Otago rugby would have been more than satisfied with a
top-four placing in the national sevens, especially a year
after it appeared in the final.
But coach Roy Hawker and his players were desperate to go all
the way and sign off from Queenstown in style before the
tournament moves to Rotorua.
''We're disappointed. We came here to win this tournament to
thank all the people up here who have done such a great
job,'' Hawker said last night.
''It's going to be tougher from now on. Having our home crowd
has made a big difference for us.''
Otago did not have the biggest side in Queenstown, and it
certainly did not have the most pace.
Hawker was missing his two fastest players by yesterday.
Highlanders training squad member Tony Ensor was not
released, and flying youngster Liam Edwards suffered a
fractured humerus and a dislocated elbow against North
Harbour on Saturday.
''That was tough for us. But we showed a lot of guts. We had
a group of guys prepared to work really hard. I think that's
been the key over the last couple of years.
''That's what Otago rugby is about - honest performers, guys
working for one another, pushing themselves to the limit.''
Otago's star performer was Brad Weber, who must tire of being
described as ''diminutive'' but whose contribution over the
weekend was massive.
The playmaker was in dazzling form right from the opening
game, sidestepping defenders with ease and showing both his
scorching pace and his vision.
''He's something special, isn't he? As long as he's in Otago,
they'll always have a strong sevens team,'' Hawker said.
''Brad is just a wonderful playmaker. Pound for pound, he's
also probably the gutsiest sevens player in the world.
''There were some superb performances by our boys right
through. I hope they get recognised for higher honours.''
ITM Cup flankers Paul Grant and Gareth Evans had their
moments, Peter Breen and Kieran Moffat chipped in with some
key plays, and MattFaddes showed his acceleration and eye for
Otago was unbeaten on Saturday, thumping Wairarapa-Bush 49-0,
beating North Harbour 19-12 and conceding a late try to draw
19-19 with Hawkes Bay.
It then produced a marvellous second-half effort to beat
Wellington 21-7 and progress to the top four.
Hawker said Otago, wary of Taranaki's defensive pattern,
believed it could win the semifinal if the players avoiding
going into contact situations on their own.
''Unfortunately, we did that too many times. We drifted away
from our game plan. And we possibly copped a couple of
frustrating calls, as well.''