The dream has almost become a reality for the All Black Sevens. As the squad enters the Olympic village, final touches are being made in Rio ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games.
For Gordon Tietjens, it hasn’t been the ideal preparation for sports biggest showcase event. The All Black Sevens managed just three HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament wins this season, and one of those was at home–Wellington Sevens.
Their unpredictable form throughout the circuit has seen the All Black Sevens head into Rio no longer as favourites. But with that said, wasn’t this always going to be the case? Sides that traditionally haven’t performed well in Sevens were always going to ‘up their game’ for the Olympics.
All Black Sevens Go Into Rio As Underdogs
There is no greater example of this than Kenya, a small African nation that shocked the world when they won the Singapore Sevens event. What about when the United States beat the All Black Sevens? Or how about Samoa, a proud and successful Sevens nation. Beaten by Spain at the final Olympic qualifying tournament, and as a result, missing the trip to Rio altogether.
Plenty of examples exist that suggest the All Black Sevens head into Rio, not only without their favourites stature, but potentially as underdogs.
NZ Men’s Olympics Schedule: Pool C
Tietjens men have a busy opening day of Sevens action in Rio. First up is Japan before a biggest test against Kenya. This match will be of high interest, given the African sides abundant talent and recent form. On day two, Great Britain will be their only match, before the top seeded eight sides meet in the finals the following day.
New Zealand Men’s Schedule:
- Pool C Game One: vs Japan 12.30pm, Tuesday August 9 (local time)
- Game Two: vs Kenya 5.30pm, Tuesday August 9 (local time)
- Game Three: vs Great Britain 12.30pm, Wednesday August 10 (local time)
- Olympic Finals: Thursday August 11 (local time)
All games will be played at the Deodoro Stadium, that seats 15,000 people. All 24 Men’s and Women’s teams should expect plenty of support, as the sport debut’s at Rio.
2016 Men’s Olympics Sevens Squad
Led by long-time standout Sevens performer Scott Curry, the men’s squad for Rio features experience and some big names from the 15’s game.
The likes of DJ Forbes, Joe Webber, Gillies Kaka, and Tim Mikkelson have all tasted regular success at the International Sevens level. Their experience will prove crucial come finals time in Rio, and there is no doubt that they will play a big mentoring role behind the scenes as well.
Sonny Bill Williams has been in the Sevens camp since January but has yet to convince many of his belonging. But for Williams,possibly winning Gold at Rio would put the ‘full stop’ on one of rugby’s greatest careers ever. If SBW and the Kiwi team can achieve that dream, there would simply be nothing more for Williams to accomplish. The decorated sportsman said as much himself, that winning an Olympic medal would be his finest achievement.
As well as established stars, many in the squad have huge potential. The Ioane brothers, Rieko and Akira, have each become dangerous attacking weapons for this side. Rieko, emerged in 2015 on the Sevens Series and his ‘bigger’ brother Akira has been drawn to the sport due to his incredible ball-handling and athletic ability. But not only that, in the case of both men, their form has also transferred to XV’s rugby level.
Players now specializing in Rugby Sevens
Prior to re-joining the All Black Sevens camp, the two brothers performed fantastically for Tana Umaga and the Blues during the past two Super Rugby seasons. Other players, including Joe Webber have proven their abilities in the 15 a side arena too, but like many of the faces in the squad, Webber is primarily now, a Sevens specialist.
In a cruel last minute twist, Teddy Stanaway has been withdrawn from the squad after breaking his hand during a warm up match against the United States last week. In his place now will be Lewis Ormond, with Commonwealth Games Gold Medal winner Liam Messam being recalled as ‘standby’. He is currently en-route to Rio. Messam had been facing the prospect of a season with the Waikato provincial team in the Mitre 10 Cup.
New Zealand Men’s squad for the Rio Olympic Game:
Scott Curry (captain)
Lewis Ormond [replacement for Teddy Stanaway]
Sonny Bill Williams *
The 2016 Rio Olympic Games get underway with the opening ceremony on Friday night local time.
Sonny Bill Williams was named this week in the All Blacks squad for The Rugby Championship. Post-Olympics, SBW is due to join the 2016 side and renew his tenure with the current World Champions.
“Main photo credit”