If the All Black Sevens are to win gold at the Rio Olympics, they need to stick with the trusted group of players that are proven and leave the “superstars” to one side.
The All Black Sevens currently sit third on the HSBC Sevens World Series table but have been playing catch up after a disappointing opening two legs in Dubai and Cape Town, plus a shock early exit in Las Vegas hasn’t helped the cause.
All Black Sevens Need Tried And Trusted
Being third on the table isn’t all that bad, it is just the unpredictability of regular tournament wins that has many New Zealand fans worried, as well as the side show PR act that Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam have provided. It has been such a seesaw thus far, and a lot of it is down to how the arrival of Williams and Messam was dealt with in the first place.
The injection of Sonny Bill Williams hasn’t worked so far, and although a powerhouse physically, the cross-code superstar has simply become too predictable in his offload game. There were hints of the offloads becoming too predictable during Williams’ stint at the Chiefs last season, and during the Wellington leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series, Williams very nearly cost his team two separate games by offloading without looking. It has become such a natural part of Williams’ game that it is now a slight weakness in his Sevens game. It appears insane to use the word offload and weakness in the same sentence when it comes to Sevens, but why else would Williams get such little game time prior to his recent injury? His fitness cannot be questioned, and neither can his commitment. Williams has stated to the media that he wanted to slip into the Sevens camp quietly and go about his work, but the man himself was generating media interest over a year ago when he answered questions about his bid to make it to Rio. Williams may want to be treated just like anyone else and receive no special treatment, but his management feel entirely different.
And what to make of Liam Messam? It has been a difficult last year for Messam after undoubtably his poorest season of Super Rugby and minimal run on starts for the All Blacks in the 15-man game. Some would go a step further and suggest Messam has spent more time doing PR than playing on the field since entering the Sevens outfit for the second time. Messam has credibility, but at this moment in time, his selection for Rio isn’t justified by much in terms of form.
For all the hype surrounding the big names who joined the All Black Sevens in a bid to win gold at the Olympics, at his point in time it looks as though Sir Gordon Tietjens would be better off sticking with the seasoned and proven players that have been on the scene well before the likes of Augustine Pulu, Liam Messam, and Sonny Bill Williams arrived at the latter end of 2015.
NZ Rugby also has to have the same mindset, it has already been proven that Williams couldn’t save the Wellington Sevens and cause a spike in ticket sales. At the Olympics in Rio, Williams wont be the big headline act, and trying to force the Sevens management into starting Williams in the big knockout games in Rio could backfire. The New Zealand public won’t accept anything less than a gold medal, don’t forget that either.
While its true there have been injury issues, but if rugby fans are completely honest with themselves, they should see that winning gold in Rio is more important than trying to create room for two players that simply have had a dreadful last 12-months form-wise in rugby.