Auckland too good despite absent stars

NZPA     16 Jan 2006    

Auckland scored seven tries to two to make it back-to-back titles in style.

An injured Valence watched from the sideline while coach Rush, recovering from a blood clot, would have been a proud man watching on television back in Auckland.

"We did this for Rushy. This is all for him," stand-in coach To'o Vaega said after the final.

"Our success comes back to the hard work Rushy had done with the team before the tournament and the gameplan he had in place.

"The boys played for him and they played with a lot of heart."

Auckland, which won last year's final against Northland by a similar score, 42-12, pipped Otago 12-7 to qualify top of pool A and had to battle to beat Counties-Manukau 17-14 in the semifinal.

Wellington progressed after beating surprise packages Otago in their semifinal.

In Mana Ashford, Auckland had the best captain of the tournament, a creative and clever field general who utilised space superbly.

David Smith was a gamebreaker and Gary Saifoloi deservedly received the Joe Tauiwi Memorial Trophy for the player of the tournament.

Wellington made a sensational start to the final when Nigel Hunt broke down the right-hand touch and Tu Umaga-Marshall was on hand to score.

Auckland replied quickly through Sherwin Stowers and went further ahead when the nippy Smith walked through the defence.

Onosai Tololina-Auva'a scored for Auckland quickly after the break to establish a commanding lead.

From having gone 14 years without winning the national title, Auckland have re-established themselves as the power players in sevens, and proven they can do it without big names.

The big under-achievers of the weekend were North Harbour, who breezed through pool play and were shaping as strong favourites to reach the final.

But they slumped to a 21-22 loss to Wellington in the quarterfinals, then looked entirely disinterested in a 10-26 loss to Bay of Plenty in the plate semifinal.

Bay of Plenty would have been disappointed not to make the top four but had the consolation of claiming the plate by beating Hawke's Bay 31-12.

South Canterbury created a big upset when they rolled Southland 21-20 in pool play.

But Southland bounced back to reach the bowl final, where they beat Manawatu 26-14.

West Coast put in a game effort in the shield final before losing 33-31 to the Cantabrians.