Aotearoa Maori to defend Hong Kong women’s title
Defending champions, New Zealand’s Aotearoa Maori, are returning with a goal to maintain New Zealand’s perfect record as tournament champions in each of the eight Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens played to date. Four of those titles were won by the Maoris, representing New Zealand.
Twelve elite international women’s sevens rugby teams will take part in the ninth Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens, to be held on Friday 31 March and Saturday 1 April 2006 at the Hong Kong Football Club.
The official tournament draw for the Cable & Wireless Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens 2006 (HKWRS) was held on March 9th at The Helena May in Central, Hong Kong.
New Zealand, Winners at 2005 HK Sevens.
The Cup Final of the Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens 2006 will be played at the Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday 1 April at 2:54pm as part of the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens 2006.
Despite pressures on the women’s rugby calendar from the Women’s Rugby World Cup later this year in Canada, the Cable & Wireless Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens 2006 again features a highly competitive mix of national teams and leading club sides from around the world.
About Aotearoa Maori
The Aotearoa Maori Women’s 7’s team (Nga Mareikura) first participated at Hong Kong in 2002, following the New Zealand Rugby Union decision not to send an official New Zealand team, and to instead concentrate their efforts and funding on the Women’s 15-a-side World Cup in Spain. The AMWR 7’s took up the invitation and, despite having to fund themselves, created history and lived up to their No 1 ranking by going through the tournament unbeaten, and comprehensively beating the USA in the final.
The New Zealand Rugby Union again decided in 2003 not to send an official New Zealand women’s team to Hong Kong. However, their Maori board, Whakapumautanga, endorsed the Aotearoa Maori Women’s team’s bid to win the invitation to return to Hong Kong and defend their title. Despite a strong lobby from former Black Ferns Coach, Darryl Sua Sua to take an invitation team (Wild Ducks) as New Zealand representatives, the Hong Kong organisers chose to invite the Peter Joseph coached, and Whakapumautanga supported, Aotearoa Maori Women’s team. The rest is history. The AMWR 7’s won the 2003 title with a devastating win over England 27-0 in the final.
This same pattern was repeated in 2004 and 2005. Although the final score in 2004 was closer, the win was just as emphatic. Australia (and their Black Ferns import) were out-muscled by the Maori team .
The AMWR 7’s went into the 2004 tournament with five new players and every one of them proved their worth. Victoria Blackledge, with 13 tournament tries, was the player of the tournament. Annie Brown was an inspirational Captain and her leadership, vision and control, won her the deserved title of Player of the Final.
In 2005, the Maoris defeated the Australian Rats 19-12 to keep the HK Cup in New Zealand’s hands.
Financial and product support have always been difficult to gain, despite the team’s tremendous record and success. Coach Peter Joseph and his wife have again coped with a funding shortfall.
“The support from our sponsors has been tremendous”, said Selector/Coach, Peter Joseph. “ and it is thanks to them that we are back competing at Hong Kong this year. Without the funding support of Cathay Pacific, the NZ Community Trust, Te Puni Kokiri and the massive individual efforts team members and their whanau have made, the cost would have been too great”, said Joseph.
“Our training camp last weekend left us with the toughest decision on who to leave out” said Joseph. “We have a number of new and exciting players in the squad and every one of them is worthy of selection”, he said. “We are confident that the team we have selected is a strong one, able to compete against the best that the rest of the world has to offer”, added Joseph.
The squad includes six of last years champion team, two former Aotearoa 7’s representatives, and two new caps. “We have lost Kellie Kiwi to retirement and Stephanie Mortimer and Tessa Te Kahu to injury, but have been able to put together and extremely fit and talented team”, said Peter Joseph.
“We are particularly delighted that 15 year old Hawkes Bay school girl, Shaan Waru has made the team as she is a huge rugby talent for the future, and is going to stamp her mark on this prestigious tournament”, he said. The Aotearoa Women’s 7’s depart for Hong on 28 March and look set to meet Australia, the tournaments beaten finalist of the last two years, in the semi-finals. The full Aotearoa team is:
Lavinia Gould (C) (Wellington)
Rachael Savage O’Neill (Wellington)
Mere Baker (Canterbury)
Selica Winiata (Manawatu)
Annie Brown (Waikato)
Rachel Wikeepa (Waikato)
Julie Ferguson (Hawkes Bay)
Chanel Huddelston (Hawkes Bay)
Shaan Waru (Hawkes Bay)
Teresa Te Tamaki (Auckland)
Victoria Blackledge (Auckland).
Not travelling reserves are:- Deirdre Hakopa; and Te Maari Mac Gregor (Hawkes Bay).
New Zealand’s Selica Winiata also played a season for the Minnesota Valkyries last year on an exchange program between the Valks and a NZ team. I’m not sure, but I believe Christy Ringgenberg then also spent a season playing in New Zealand as part of this exchange.