Otago presence noticed in NZ sevens

Vilimoni Koroi
Vilimoni Koroi
For only the second time in nearly two decades, Otago has had three players turning out in black on the sevens circuit.

At the Cape Town Sevens in South Africa yesterday, the All Blacks sevens team finished fourth after it was knocked out in the semifinals by United States, 31-12, and then lost the playoff for third and fourth to South Africa, 10-5.

Fiji beat United States in the final 29-15.

Appearing for the New Zealand side were Otago outside backs Vilimoni Koroi, Jona Nareki and Taylor Haugh.

The only other time Otago has supplied three players to the national team was back in 2007, when Ed Cocker was joined by loose forwards Alando Soakai and Adam Thomson.

The trio played two tournaments, in England and Scotland.

Jona Nareki
Jona Nareki
Since then it has been lean pickings for Otago players in the national sevens set-up, with just eight players from Otago playing for the national squad in the past eight years.

The chances of getting Nareki, Haugh and Koroi playing in the same tournament appeared very slim just a couple of weeks ago.

Nareki was selected for the first tournament in Dubai after a spell out of the game because of a nasty injury to his testicles in the Mitre 10 Cup.

Koroi was left behind for the tournament in Dubai, initially to give his body a bit of a rest and get it ready for sevens after a long year on the field.

Haugh had played for a national sevens development team in Fiji last month and then played well for Otago at the South Island regional sevens tournament in Timaru on December 1-2.

But injuries before the tournament, which included Nareki getting injured, resulted in Koroi travelling to Dubai, where he ended up playing.

Taylor Haugh
Taylor Haugh
With more than half a dozen players injured, it was something of a turn-up for the All Blacks sevens team to win the Dubai tournament.

The team then moved straight on to Cape Town, and Koroi and Nareki were picked for the team.

After injured players were assessed, Haugh was summoned and flew from Dunedin to Cape Town in the middle of last week. He was named as the 13th man in the squad and would only come into the team if a player or players got injured.

That happened after the end of the first day, and Haugh was on the bench for the three games played on the second day of the sevens, and got game time in all three.

He scored a try in the side's loss to the United States, picking up a five-pointer right at the end.

Koroi was involved in an amazing play at the end of the first day. He scored the match-winning try in the final pool game against South Africa, which enabled his side to make the quarterfinals.

It beat Australia 26-17 in the quarterfinals.

Haugh is due back in Dunedin tomorrow, and is scheduled to play for Otago this weekend at the national sevens tournament in Tauranga.

He is a key player for the Otago side and will take the field alongside his older brother, Mackenzie Haugh.

Koroi and Nareki are not scheduled to play in the tournament.

The next game on the world seven series circuit is in Hamilton late next month.


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