The success of the All Blacks and Black Ferns sevens teams have had a profound impact on playing numbers at Bay of Plenty schools.
Talented teenagers now see sevens as a specialist sport, with its own pathways to professional contracts and the chance to travel the world playing the game.
With all of the country’s contracted sevens players based at Mount Maunganui’s University of Waikato Adams Centre for High Performance, the opportunity to rub shoulders with the game’s greats is driving popularity even further.
The benefits were clearly evident at Papamoa’s Gordon Spratt Reserve last Friday, as the best secondary school players showcased their skills in glorious conditions.
While the big guns of Tauranga Boys’, Tauranga Girls’ and Rotorua Boys’ were again in contention to win titles, what pleased organisers was the smaller schools.
Bay of Plenty Rugby’s secondary schools manager Ian Parata says a strategic decision to focus on schools with less playing numbers has paid off.
“Our big schools, like Tauranga Boys’ and Rotorua Boys’, have 100 under-14 players and 100 under-15 rugby players,” says Ian. “With the smaller schools, up to 20 per cent of their population is needed to play rugby.
“Tarawera High School turned up to play with an under-14 boys’ team. They don’t have a 15-aside rugby team. It gives those schools an opportunity to come and compete and have a great day playing sevens rugby.
“The numbers this year are awesome with our development grades, particularly with the girls’ teams new to rugby. John Paul College only play one set of girls’ rugby all year and it is here at Bay of Plenty Secondary Schools.”
Tauranga Girls’ under-14 coach Rowan Oswald says international success has seen a large increase in numbers at his school.
“We are getting a lot of interest already from Year 8 students, who are coming in next year,” he says.
“They are really eager and have chosen TGC because they know about the rugby programme and they have been inspired by the Black Ferns.”
Alize Bowring-Smith and Puarito Atutahi, both 14, were two of the standout players in Rowan’s team last week.
Alize started with sevens last year. She loves the physical side of tackling after playing netball, touch, volleyball and water polo.
“I used to go and watch my brother’s games and used to really love seeing them get into it. It was a lot rougher, which I liked,” she says laughing.
The impact of the Black Ferns sevens team has been huge on her.
“I used to watch them on TV and wanted to go and watch them play in real life and maybe go to their practices, so I can learn off them. I would love to be in that team one day.”
Puarito loves seeing so many girls’ teams turning up for big tournaments now, compared to when she started playing back in Year 7.
“Rugby used to be mainly a boys’ thing, so to come here and see all the girls’ teams is awesome. The Black Ferns are getting noticed now, which is helping.
“I have been watching them since I was little and definitely want to play for them one day.”