A first foray into rugby union’s short-form game exceeded expectations when the New Zealand Warriors competed in the World Schools Sevens tournament in Auckland on Saturday and Sunday.
Coming into the event as a late replacement, the team of Sky Sport Future Warriors contracted players finished with a win, a draw and two losses in pool play to reach the plate semi-finals.
There they bowed out with a 17-29 loss to the New Zealand Cavaliers, who went on to win the plate final.
While they didn’t make the tournament’s top four the Warriors boasted one of the weekend’s standout players in 16-year-old St Paul’s College student Sio Kali. He made the tournament team which was dominated by five players from the title-winning New Zealand Condors.
“We achieved all we wanted and more from the weekend,” said Sky Sport Future Warriors academy manager Athens Henare.
“The big aim was giving the boys the chance to play football at a time when there have been very few opportunities.
“Despite little experience in sevens, they performed really well and it was great seeing Sio make the tournament team.”
The good news didn’t end there for the team guided by rugby union sevens legend D J Forbes. Henare said the organisers were impressed with the Warriors’ effort and have invited them back to the tournament when it is held in December this year.
The debut campaign came about through a collaborative effort with the Auckland Rugby League and the New Zealand Rugby League, the kit the New Zealand Warriors wore reflecting all three organisations; they sported an NZRL jersey, ARL shorts and socks from new Vodafone Warriors apparel partner Puma.
The Warriors were in what turned out to be the pool of death, their first two opponents being beaten finalists the Asian Dragons and eventual champions the New Zealand Condors.
It was an imposing challenge for a team playing sevens rugby union for the first time, going down 7-22 to the Dragons and then 12-25 to the Condors.
However, they learnt quickly on what was a long and exceedingly hot day to finish with a 12-12 draw with the Samoans Barbarians in their last match on Saturday.
Boosted by that result they began the second day against the Cook Islands which pitted Kiwi rugby league greats Tony and Kevin Iro against each other on the coaching benches. It went down to the last second before the Warriors snatched a 17-12 victory.
That took the Warriors through to the plate competition semi-finals where they went down to the Cavaliers.