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The first stage of the national sevens circuit kicks off in Timaru today as players line up in the southern regional qualifying series.
Otago and Southland are sending men’s and women’s teams to the event which is the qualifier for the national tournament in Tauranga in the middle of next month.
The Otago men’s side has been training hard under coach Roy Hawker, who is focusing more on overall fitness this year.
He felt last year the side was underdone and could not sustain that all-round speed needed for the entire game.
With North Otago not appearing, qualifying will be a round robin with five of the six teams to make the national tournament. Also playing are Canterbury, Tasman, Mid Canterbury and South Canterbury.
Otago has been running a squad of up to 28 players and Hawker said that had created plenty of competition. Zingari-Richmond midfielder Keegan Masina has suffered a serious Achilles injury after looking sharp and had to withdraw while Otago midfielder Matt Whaanga has a foot injury and is also unavailable.
Brothers Taylor and Mackenzie Haugh will be keys for Otago, along with University halfback Kieran McClea.
Levi Emery and John Tapueluelu will provide the pace. Charles Elton, coming off a big season for North Otago, will provide bulk as many backs in the 15s game are set to play upfront.
The women’s side will be coached by Aimee Sutorius, a former Black Fern who is the Otago union’s women’s high performance manager.
The side is boosted by Black Ferns development players Rosie Kelly and Kilisitina Moata’ane, who are just back from a tour of Fiji. Speedster Amy Du Plessis is another player who will look to impress.
Sutorius said the side had come through training well and was looking to make an impact.
Three of the five teams will qualify for the national tournament. Also competing are Tasman, Canterbury and Mid Canterbury.
The Southland men’s side should go into the tournament with some confidence. It beat Otago in a series of warm-up games two weeks ago and has impact players Charles Alaimalo and Leigh Bristowe.
The Southland women’s team will find it tough but have also been training hard and will look to make an impact.
The tournament will be broadcast on Sky Sport.
For regional qualifying
- Otago men: Taylor Haugh (c), Charles Elton, Hemaua Samasoni, Connor Newlands, Layne Opetaia, John Tapueluelu, Riku Kitahara, Levi Emery, Kieran McClea, Mackenzie Haugh, George Witana, Isaiah Duncanson.
- Otago women: Rosie Kelly (cc), Hinemoa Watene (cc), Jess Kendall, Kilisitina Moata’ane, Julia Gorinski, Jordyn Tereu, Amy Du Plessis, Erica Blundell, Rosie Buchanan-Brown, Trisha Hopcroft, Kiana Wereta, Jamie Church
- Southland men: Leigh Bristowe (c), Jack Capil, Charles Alaimalo, Alatini Vaihu, Sosi Tuimavave, Rory van Vugt, Bram Fodie, Henry Earland, Jarel Hemehema, Toka Sopoaga, Kalani Elder, Brad Kooman.
- Southland women: Cass Yee (c), Sipa Saili, Michelle Neho, Elawhyshes Curran, Teilah Templeton, Devon Grey, Hana Bryant, Kirsty Thwaites, Grace Earland, Libby Pannett- Miller, Krishanee Tamou, Maddison Grieve, Tessa Hewlett.