Atlantis a Surprise Success at Taupiri (NZ) Sevens

(Atlantis tournament #22)
Emil Signes
March 1, 1990
JUNE 30, 2013

 Note of June 2013: this is the article as I submitted it to Rugby Magazine.  Click here for the article as published. = Emil

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Emil Signes, 1990 article on the Taupiri Sevens itself: "In the English-dominated environment of American rugby I am continually forced to defend the importance and significance of sevens, so it is with great pleasure that I can report that my views are shared by many in the Southern hemisphere, particularly New Zealand."

On February 25, 1990, Atlantis became the first American team to participate in a major New Zealand club sevens tournament.  Furthermore, they were a pleasant surprise to their New Zealand hosts, knocking off 3 first division sides on their way to a semi-final berth in what is acknowledged to be New Zealand's best and toughest club 7s' tournament.

Atlantis at Taupiri


I had corresponded with former All-Black coach Bryce Rope about New Zealand's approach to sevens, and he had spoken briefly with our team during the 1989 Hong Kong Sevens.  After Hong Kong,realizing that our top sevens' players needed to gain more experience dealing with pressure, I wrote to Bryce asking whether it would be possible to have a side invited to a top New Zealand 7s tournament.
In December 1989, Ken Wilkinson of Taupiri called with the formal invitation.


An opportunity like this was too good to pass up.  It was a perfect occasion to convene the invitational sevens' side Atlantis that I had founded in 1986.  Atlantis' purpose is to further the development of sevens within the US by bringing together players of skill and experience levels appropriate for the specific event.
Obviously this specific event would require all top notch players.


 Rob Skalka and Mike Brodie   

Initial inquiries indicated that virtually all top-notch US sevens players would be interested in this activity, but that virtually none could afford to pay the expenses involved.
Continental Airlines, one of the tournament sponsors, was able to provide a moderate discount, and members of the Taupiri RFC offered to host us during our stay in the Waikato.  
Still, projected costs were too high for us to accept the invitation without further help.
Enter Rob Skalka and Mike Brodie, fund raisers supreme.  Through various contacts, sponsors, etc., ferreted out by Rob and Mike, we were able eventually to cover the majority of the airfare as well as provide kit for all tour members.
Both men joined the tour and provided assistance in many areas: Mike helped out in various organizational areas, and Rob provided many insightful comments in strategic and tactical areas regarding our performance on the field.
Among sponsors contacted locally were Schweppes, Guinness, Matt Godek and New York City's Red Lion Pub, all of whom provided assistance to our efforts.

The Atlantis Squad

Manager: Mike Brodie
Coach: Emil Signes
Ass't Manager and Coach: Rob Skalka

The following nine members comprised the Atlantis playing squad that competed in the 1990 Taupiri Sevens:

  36 Will Brewington, Maryland Old Boys (MOB)
126 Chris O'Brien, Old Blues (CA)
  31 Chris Petrakes, MOB
127 Dave Poquette, Grad Rapids (MI)
  58 Mike Siano, Philadelphia-Whitemarsh
  35 Steve Siano, Philadelphia-Whitemarsh
128 Charlie Wilkinson, NOVA
129 Jim Wilkinson, NOVA
  96 Barry Williams, Los Angeles

Kevin Higgins was the tenth member of the squad until the last moment, but sustained a minor injury and chose to recover to be fit for the Eagles' 15s tour of Ireland.

The final member of the tour party was Will Brewington's wife Brenda.


Members of the tour party joined up in Honolulu late on the evening of Monday, February 19; three -- Mike Siano, Chris O'Brien, and Barry Tofaeono (formerly Williams) -- arrived directly from the Eagle 15s' camp in San Diego.
We arrived in Auckland slightly before 9 AM on Wednesday, February 21, and jumped right into our first training session upon our 11:30 arrival in Taupiri.  The press was there, and we got a nice write up in the Waikato Times on the following day; a sure sign that we were in a part of the world where rugby was appreciated.
The rest of the day was spent trying to stay awake, to get us back in synch with the clock in our new environment.

 Social Activities   

Although we trained every day, life was not all rugby, as we got to many activities during the week that followed.  Among those attended by at least some members of the group were:
     o A day at the races, at the Te Awamutu Racecourse (the 75th
     Jubilee meeting of the Waipa Racing Club). Most of us came
     away a few dollars poorer, but Rob emerged a big winner.
     o A reception held by the mayor of Hamilton, Margaret Evans,
     for the entire tour party.  Mayor Evans described her
     community, its challenges and accomplishments, and made us
     realize that there is more to New Zealand than rugby.
     o A boat trip down the Waikato River. The lunch-time cruise
     was sponsored by New Zealand breweries and afforded a
     relaxing view of a portion of New Zealand's longest river.
     o A visit to the beach at Raglan.  The Tasman Sea coast is
     well known for its black sand beaches, and the water was a
     beautiful Atlantis green.
     o A side trip to Rotorua, with its world famous geysers and
     healing waters.  The highlight of the trip, for Chris
     Petrakes and Rob Skalka, was finding a MOB jersey on display
     at the local rugby museum.
     o Various trips to Hamilton, including Victoria's Pub, a
     local establishment managed by Graham Osbourne, a local rugby
     person who treated us very well during our visit (the main
     item on the agenda of many at Victoria's was watching the New
     Zealand vs. India cricket test match) (ho-hum).

Taupiri Collage -1200
Photo Collage from the Atlantis 1990 Taupiri tour.
Top photos, L to R: Brenda & Will Brewington play chess on long trip LA to Aukland.  The Wilkinsons: Atlantis' Jim & hosts Barbara & Ken. Mike Brodie & Emil Signes (and ancient American flag). Inset: Chris Petrakes
Bottom photos, L to R: Relaxing between games - Barry Williams, Dave Poquette, Mike Siano, Chris O'Brien. Charlie Wilkinson & Rob Skalka. Steve & Mike Siano on Waikato River cruise

Thursday Night Scrimmage

Thursday night we were presented with our first test on the field.  The original schedule called for us to face a tough Hamilton Marist side first, followed by a Taupiri "2nd/3rds combined" side.
We fielded our top combinations vs. Hamilton Marist and defeated them 3 tries to 1.  Following this match we fielded two less likely combinations made up of our squad members, but were defeated by Taupiri, 4 tries to 1.
I was upset by this result, and forewent our original plan to go over "situations" with the Marist team and opted for a full 14-minute game, instead, a game we won quite handily.
The Taupiri result shook us up and made us realize that we'd have to concentrate more on Sunday and that all sloppy play would be punished by opponents' tries.
We later learned that the Taupiri team we had faced was the Taupiri first choice, and that relieved our anxiety somewhat.

Chris Petrakes Injured   

During our last workout on Saturday morning, we suffered a crippling blow, as Chris Petrakes severely twisted an ankle during a game of touch.  The doctor he visited told him that if he treated it properly he would probably be available by the time the Hong Kong Sevens rolled around.
Needless to say, we were very upset.  Furthermore, although we had practiced with Will Brewington as our reserve scrum half, now that we actually had to deal with the situation, captain Jimmy Wilkinson and I realized that we didn't want to replace Will at hooker.  We decided to use Steve Siano as the scrum half on Sunday.

The Tournament

The Taupiri Sevens tournament itself is described in another article in this issue of Rugby.  Briefly, it consists of 24 teams, and follows the popular "Hong Kong" format -- 8 brackets of 3 teams each.
Our bracket consisted of Auckland Suburbs, a first division Auckland side, and the Tokoroa Pirates, another top side from the southern Waikato. Our hosts seemed to feel that if we could somehow manage to squeak by Suburbs, we'd make it into the championship quarter-finals.
Suburbs leading player, Brett Iti, is the Auckland scrum half, and everyone with whom we spoke agreed that he would run around the base of the scrum.  We realized that we'd have to stop him immediately and assigned that job to Will Brewington.
The Pirates were a largely Maori side that we could expect to play a physical style game -- a match up that we looked forward to. 

Auckland Suburbs

Half an hour before kickoff, Chris Petrakes ignored all medical advice and had his ankle taped.  Although he was not feeling comfortable, we decided to play him anyway.
On the first scrum of the game Suburbs' halfback Brett Iti ran around the base of the scrum, as predicted.  Will Brewington got out quickly from his hooker position and tackled Iti, but he allowed the strong Iti to keep his feet and move the ball away from pressure to the outside where a failed Barry Tofaeono interception attempt ended up as a Suburbs try and a 4-0 deficit.
After some good ball movement, Barry Tofaeono got the ball and sidestepped as only he can, to the oohs and aahs of the crowd, and scored a try to tie the game.  Chris O'Brien made the drop conversion (tournament rules), and put us ahead, 6-4.
Later in the half, after Charlie Wilkinson had pulled out some typical magic out of his sevens' hat and broken the Suburbs' line, a Will Brewington football pass to Chris O'Brien resulted in a try and a 12-4 lead.
In the second half, Suburbs narrowed the lead to 12-10 as a break by their center resulted in a try.  Another long Suburbs break nearly resulted in an Atlantis defeat, but Chris O'Brien made a tremendous tackle less than 5 yards from the goal line, thwarting the attempt and saving the game.  Another Barry Tofaeono step resulted in our last try and a 16-10 victory.
     Our team:             
     1. Poquette           
     2. Brewington        
     3. J.Wilkinson       
     4. Petrakes                        
      5. C. Wilkinson
      6. O'Brien
      7. Tofeano

Tokoroa Pirates   

This was just about a flawless game, in which our ball handling and support work were firing on all cylinders.  Our display was so impressive that Auckland selector Morris Trapp remarked that our ball skills, and the way we were creating the gaps, were the best he'd ever seen, on any team, anywhere.  Great praise indeed.
The first try was scored by Jim Wilkinson after good support from a tackle situation, and was followed by a Mike Siano try after good ball handling led to a gap which he breached.  Chris Petrakes, proving the doctor wrong, followed with a hat trick of tries, and Barry Tofaeono added the sixth with a great individual move.
The "all conversions must be drop kicks" hurt us in this game; with Chris O'Brien out, we went to Barry, who made only one kick of six.
     Our team:           
     1. M.Siano          
     2. Brewington     
     3. J.Wilkinson
     4. Petrakes
     5. C. Wilkinson
     6. S. Siano
     7. Tofaeono


Quarterfinals: Waitete

Our pool victory meant that we advanced to the Cup quarterfinals. Our opponent, Waitete, was the King Country 1989 league champion (15s).
Atlantis, however,  went into a Jekyll and Hyde mode as our excellent game against the Pirates was followed by an abysmal performance.
The score was tied 6-6 (O'Brien try) with less than 15 seconds left, and under the tournament rules, we would have lost, as Waitete had scored first.
Waitete was awarded a penalty at our 5 meter line, and instead of kicking it, chose to run it, were tackled, and a Steve Siano clearing kick was run down by Dave Poquette, who fought off two tacklers and fed the ball to Will Brewington, who ran it in about 75 yards for the winning try.
     Our team: 
     1. M.Siano *
     2. Brewington
     3. J.Wilkinson
     4. S. Siano
     5. C. Wilkinson
     6. O'Brien
     7. Tofeano

     * replaced by Poquette

Semifinals: Ponsonby

Having surprised most of the Kiwi fans (and ourselves) by our success, we found ourselves in the company of "the big boys." The top two teams in the tournament were definitely figured to be Auckland Marist and Ponsonby.
With the two newest All-Black wingers (Craig Innes and Vi-anga Tuigamala), Ponsonby ran three quick tries down our throat before we regrouped.
In the second half we played Ponsonby even and got the score down to 14-6, and threatened again.   Had we scored and made it a 14-12 game, we would have positioned ourselves for a tremendous upset.  Ponsonby, however, took advantage of an offensive mistake on our part, and their score made the final 20-6.
Chris O'Brien scored our only try.
     Our team:    
     1. Poquette   
     2. Brewington
     3. J.Wilkinson
     4. Petrakes
      5. C. Wilkinson
      6. O'Brien
      7. Tofaeono   


The other semi-final featured Auckland Marist and Taupiri; our hosts who had played so well on Thursday night repeated their performance when it counted and got much further than they expected.  In this game, however, the inevitable finally happened and Auckland Marist came off with a 30-0 victory.

The Championship Finals   

The game started out as if Ponsonby were going to thrash Marist by 30 or 40 points, as they led 16-0 five minutes into the first half.
Zin Zan Brooke, however, took over virtually every phase of the game at that point, beginning with a long kick to winger Terry Wright that Ponsonby didn't even bother to chase.
In the end, Marist's composure, and Ponsonby's lack of it, resulted in a 28-16 Marist victory.
The game was very exciting to watch and was of Hong Kong championship caliber.  Great stuff!


Atlantis players basked in the congratulations of the fans and opposing players as the festivities wound to a close.  Nevertheless, as befits those who strive for nothing less than perfection, there was some speculation as to how we might have been able to pull off a miracle finish vs. Ponsonby.
The universal feeling in the Atlantis camp, after all was said and done, was one of real accomplishment.
Atlantis has been invited back in 1991, and will probably accept: the Taupiri Sevens is a great venue for development of top notch sevens' players, of decision makers under pressure.

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