Four Wellington schools will venture north this weekend for the national finals of the Condor Sevens again being held at Auckland’s Sacred Heart College. St Mary’s College will be out to retain the title they won impressively last year while Scots College makes their return after not having reached the nationals the past two years. Rongotai are back after an even longer absence dating to 2005, while the Aotea College girls make their debut at the event.
St Mary’s College won the local qualifier on Labour Day at a canter, continuing their remarkable run of success over the past 15 months. Five of the players who were part of last year’s triumph – Dhys Faleafaga, Cheyne Copeland, Ainsleyana Puleiata, Lomia Fa’amausili, and Ivana Samani – return, with Lyric Faleafaga potentially a sixth if she plays after her recent shoulder surgery. They’ll be joined by a clutch that includes Damaris Samani, Emma Brown, and Te Ararao Sopoaga (younger sister of the four brothers), but one player they will be without is Renee Savai’inaea.
As defending champions they’re seeded top and get underway with matches against Taranaki region winners Sacred Heart New Plymouth, followed by Auckland side Mt Roskill Grammar before ending day one against a well-regarded Trident High School side from Whakatane that won the Bay of Plenty qualifiers.
Aotea College may have finished runners-up locally to St Mary’s once again, but owing to the latter’s automatic qualification as defending champions this year that’s enough to qualify and marks the first time one of the Porirua basin schools will appear. They face an imposing task in their first game having been drawn to take on one of the favourites in Hamilton Girls’ High School, before facing Northland’s Bay of Islands College and Auckland’s Otahuhu College to complete pool play.
Coach Findlay Siania is adamant that they aren’t going just to make up the numbers and will be determined to do themselves proud, and he has enlisted the services of former rep women’s sevens coach Charles Aliva to help prepare the group. Siania nominates 16 year-old back Kayla Hapuroa-Rei who scored a hat-trick for Paremata-Plimmerton in their losing effort in the club Division 2 Women’s final, under 18 reps Julie Tusa and Syntyche Maiava, year 10 halfback Mariah Chadwick, and league convert Maggie Gibson as their key players.
St Mary’s and Hamilton Girls are the headline favourites along with the other two schools from the XV’s Top Four in Southland Girls and Auckland’s Southern Cross. Outside of that quartet Motueka HS, Trident HS, Auckland’s Aorere College, and Manawatu’s Manukura shape as strong challengers for the title as well.
Two-time runners-up in this event, Scots College have perhaps surprisingly failed to even qualify the past two years. They put that right this year, coming from 5-12 down at halftime to beating St Pat’s Silverstream 22-12 in their semi-final before claiming the local title 21-19 over Rongotai.
They’ll be led by Jaylen Tuapola who was perhaps the dominant player at the regional qualifier on Labour Day with Malo Manuao – who was part of that Fidow/Umaga-Jensen/Va’a team from 2014 as a Year 10 and their only player with experience at this tournament – likely to fill the playmaker role. They’ve got plenty of speed as well with the likes of Caleb Cavubati, Jack Gray, and Tai Neli
Scots are one of the eight top-seeded sides in the 32-team boy’s competition, something afforded to them on the basis of St Pat’s Town making the Cup round last year. There are few easy games at the Condors and their pool comprises local side Otahuhu College who they face first-up, followed by Rangitoto College from North Harbour (who won the Blues region Co-ed XV’s title this year), before what could be a decisive encounter against Nelson College to end day one.
Rongotai College were perhaps surprise finalists back on Labour Day, but it’s hard to say that they were undeserving after edging a well-drilled Wellington College side 14-12 in the quarter-finals then dispatched St Pats Town 31-7 at the semi-final stage before narrowly losing the final to Scots; on another day could have taken it
As at the local tournament they’ll rely strongly on a core group. Matiu Samuel was exceptional on Labour Day and if he gets his confidence up that will be a boost for their chances, as will strong outings from the likes of DJ Taoipu, Steven Va’a, Jason Tuitama, and speedster Sane Chut.They’re in Pool H where they’ll face Pakuranga College and then relative minnows Thames High School in their opening games before taking on Auckland winners Kelston Boys High in their last game of pool play. In their last appearance in 2005 one Julian Savea starred and was named in the tournament team, so perhaps lightning can strike there again.
Hamilton Boys will be looking for a three-peat in this event, with the side that beat them in the national XV’s final Hastings Boys the strongest challengers on paper but they only need to look back at last year where some bad luck saw them crash out of contention in pool play. Last year’s runners-up Feilding HS are regular contenders while the usual clutch of Auckland sides headed by hosts Sacred Heart and Kelston can’t be discounted. And it’s almost inevitable there will be a surprise package from somewhere within the field that emerges
Coverage of the 2017 YouthTown Condor 7’s is live on Sky Sport 2 both days, starting at 12pm on Saturday and 11am on Sunday featuring all matches on the #1 field. That should see three of the Wellington sides have matches televised in succession; St Mary’s against Trident High at 2.50pm, then Scots’ up against Nelson College followed by Rongotai up against Kelston.
St Mary’s (from): Olivia Aunoa, Emma Brown, Trinity Clarke, Cheyne Copeland, Lomia Fa’amausili, Dhys Faleafaga ©, Lyric Faleafaga, Ainsleyana Puleiata, Katherine Rayasi, Temalesi Rayasi, Damaris Samani, Ivana Samani, Te Ararao Sopoaga, Riarna Vulu
Aotea: Jahnika Chadwick, Mariah Chadwick, Brenda Etuale, Maggie Gibson, Kayla Hauparoa Rei, Harmony Ioane, Paris Leilua Va, Syntyche Maiava, Malia So’oialo, Ofa Taungalu, Julie Tusa, Hatesa Vailoa
Scots (from): Caleb Cavubati, Jack Gray, Tamaterangi Kapene, Moala Katoa, Hamish Mansell, Malo Manuao, Tai Neli, Eparama Sailo, Sage Shaw-Tait, Roderick Solo, Manahi Tipoki, Jaylen Tuapola ©, Sase Va’a
Rongotai (from): Jason Aulelio, Sane Chut, Pulega Gu, Reon Paul, Sose Perenise, William Rua, Apostle Salanoa, Matiu Samuel, Daniel Junior Taoipu ©, Elias Toleafoa, Jason Tuitama, Ioritana Tusa, Steven Va'a.