The national provincial Sevens tournament is being played at Rotorua in the middle of next month.
For a group of secondary school aged players, appearing in this tournament and getting noticed by the New Zealand selectors presents a huge opportunity for them to further their rugby careers.
One such player who has already made every post a winner is Feilding High School’s Lauren Balsillie, who, as a Year 12 student in 2015, has already established herself in both the Manawatu Cyclones’ fifteens and sevens rugby set-ups and recently made a 56-player Black Ferns wider training squad.
This year she played in five matches on the right wing for Manawatu in the Women’s NPC, scoring four tries. One of her tries, against Bay of Plenty, was nominated for Sky TV’s Fans’ Try of the Year at the recent New Zealand Rugby Awards. “That was a pretty good try, it was a good effort and it was a long way to run, so I was rapt to see that on the nomination list,” Lauren told College Sport Media.
Last weekend Lauren’s Manawatu team won the Central Zone provincial Sevens qualifying tournament in Levin. She and Feilding High School teammate Corrineke Windle were the two schoolgirls in this team. Lauren herself sat out the last few games after sustaining an ankle injury but she said she’ll be resuming training next week.
The week before she was at the National Condor Sevens in Auckland. Lauren scored two tries in Feilding’s 17-14 quarter-final win over Christchurch Girls’ High School, but couldn’t stop her side from going down 7-22 in the semi-finals to Southland Girls’ High School. Southland lost 0-35 to Hamilton Girls’ High School in the final. Two Feilding girls made the tournament team, Lauren and Georgia Ponsonby.
This was Lauren’s third Condor Sevens tournament, and she has noticed that it’s got more competitive in three years. “With the Olympics coming up most schools are trying to get involved in Sevens rugby now. Every team that I have been involved with has improved heaps on the previous one.”
Lauren’s short-term goal is to try and make Manawatu’s squad for the nationals in Rotorua next month.
“There’s heaps of competition in the Manawatu area with all the talent coming through, but for me nationals is definitely a big goal. I was involved last year and I can’t wait to get the opportunity to play in this tournament again. So I’ll just be training hard over the next little while.”
Perhaps her success so far can be put down to her background, a mix of French flair and Scottish fire.
With a French surname, Lauren was born in Scotland and spent her formative years there. She moved to New Zealand in 2006 and her family settled in Masterton. She started playing football, but it didn’t take her long to discover rugby.
She started her secondary schooling at Wairarapa College. “I had heard that Feilding had won the Sky Sport Magazine’s College Rugby Team of the Year in 2012, so that’s what prompted me to go there and I got a place in the hostel. I was a boarder initially but my family also moved up last year.”
Lauren said that her preference is for the shorter form of the game. “I probably prefer Sevens because the faster game is more suited to me. I enjoy them both but if I had to pick it would be Sevens, and with it being an Olympic sport now there’s more opportunities.”
Normally an outside back, Lauren was playing in the midfield for her school team this year.
Feilding qualified for their fifth straight National Girls’ Top 4 tournament after beating Wellington’s Aotea College 38-10 in the Hurricanes region final.
In their national Top 4 Semi-final, Feilding lost 20-10 to Southland. Playing at centre, Lauren scored both of Feilding’s tries in this match, one with a clever, weaving run through several would-be tacklers and the other an 80-metre runaway after scooping up a loose ball. They then edged out Auckland’s Southern Cross Campus 27-24 to finish the year as the third best girls fifteens school in New Zealand.
Four Feilding girls made Manawatu’s Women’s NPC squad this year: Lauren, Corrineke Windle, Sarah Swinbanks and Shayden Tipu.
Although she has just finished year 12, Lauren is not returning to school next year. “I’m going to UCOL in Palmerston North to study Sports and Exercise Performance.” She will continue to play rugby for Feilding Old Boys, the club team that she’s played in for the past three years.
The Condor Sevens Girls tournament team that was recently selected is:
Rina Paraone (Kaipara College), Georgia Ponsonby (Feilding High School), Kendall Buckingham (Southland Girls’ High School), Terina Te Tamaki (Hamlton Girls’ High School)
Risaleaana Pouri-Lane (Motueka High School), Violet Hapi-Wise (Hamilton Girls’ High School)
Lauren Balsillie (Feilding High School), Rosie Kelly (Christchurch Girls’ High School)
Tenika Willison (Hamilton Girls’ High School)), Alena Saili (Southland Girls’ High School), Isla Norman-Bell (Hamilton Girls’ High School), Sapphire Tapsell (Te Puke High School)
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