It’s another edition of the Wellington Sevens this weekend at Westpac Stadium. It could be a ‘redemption weekend’ at the capital, with the Kiwis playing for more than a fourth title. The Windy City needs a boost to regain popularity of the Wellington Sevens round of the World Series. This weekend, they have that chance on January 28-29.
Meanwhile, the biggest talk of the weekend is on the field. This is the moment the Kiwi master-tactician Sir Gordon Tietjens will lead his new side Samoa against his old team, the mighty All Blacks Sevens.
Kiwis Playing For More Than A Fourth Title
It will be more on the minds of the Kiwis, when they take the field at the Westpac Stadium this weekend. Not only they are defending their crown from last year, they have a season to resurrect, a title hunt to put back on course and a ‘gospel to reignite’. The Kiwis; with all their big stars of 2016, played one of the finest sevens game in history when they came from behind at the death, to beat South Africa last year. Sensationally they followed that up with another heart-stopper in Sydney a week later, to claim both titles on offer in the Oceania Leg.
Seeking HSBC Sevens Series Redemption
The Kiwis didn’t have a good start to their season in the opening rounds, and they currently sit fifth in the HSBC Sevens Series standings. Their progress in Dubai and Cape Town were both cut short by the all dominant Blitzboks. In round one it was 40-0 in the Cup quarter finals–the second highest score against the Kiwis in their history of sevens.
For the record, the Fijians hold that record, when they walloped and schooled the Kiwis in a 44-0 drubbing two years earlier. By the second round, it was a 14-7 loss in a match that gave us that glimmer of hope that Kiwi sevens is making a comeback. The fitness was tested, so in the cooler climate of Wellington, that may be the added factor needed for redemption.
Resurrecting Kiwi Sevens
The gospel of rugby sevens has somewhat lost it’s place in Kiwi rugby. In the early 90s it was all Fiji/New Zealand teams ruling the game. Then Super Rugby happened, then the full IRB Sevens Series, then complacency took over. Gone were the days that they would unearth ‘a big kid’ in the huge form Jonah Lomu or Victor Vito, a hot-stepper in Christian Cullen or the feisty captain Eric Rush.
Sevens was a door to the All Blacks, they had the best coach the world of sevens had ever seen; in Gordon Tietjens. By the time the game was brought into the Olympics though, the system restricted his selection process, withholding some of the best from him. Meaning the final result was a dismal performance in Rio. So, whatever happens on the weekend, their biggest job is to reignite that sevens love! To refill the Cake Tin, and for the squad to reclaim their crown……..so No Pressure.
Pool C: The LOWDOWN
Defending champs New Zealand has named four new caps for the Oceania leg of the HSBC Sevens Series. They are chasing their fourth consecutive Wellington title with plenty riding on their back. First time at home without the prolific head coach–Scott Waldrom and Tomasi Cama at the helm.
New Tasman trio Trael Joass, Andrew Kneestub and Tone Ng Shiu will be joined by Fijian-flyer Vilimoni Koroi. All four had a great outing at the recent National Sevens in Rotorua attended by Last Word On Sport’s Scott Hornell. “Trael stood out, but you have to give credit to Scott and Tomasi for showing the touch of adding ‘fresh wheels’ to include some pace out wide.”
Tim Mikkelson – The @NZ7s ace will be out to help New Zealand target their fourth consecutive #WellySevens title pic.twitter.com/HjTi8s5BwN
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) January 24, 2017
Mix of New Talent and Cool Heads
The new boys will fill in for stalwarts like Gilles Kaka, Joe Webber and Lewis Ormond. This will also mark the return of Fijian players into the Kiwi setup, which was a successful ingredient for them the past. Their selection in 2017 is based on form [National Sevens] and all deserve their selection.
“This is a team based on form, and it shows the exciting guys coming through can put their hand up, and be successful with national selection” Scott Waldrom on worldrugby.org.
All Blacks Sevens squad: Scott Curry (C), Dylan Collier, DJ Forbes, Iopu Iopu_Aso, Trael Joass, Rocky Khan, Andrew Knewstubb, Vilimoni Koroi, Tim Mikkelson, Sione Molia Tone Ng SIU, Sherwin Stowers, Isaac Te Tamaki, Regan Ware
The ‘speed merchant’ is back, along with their favorite captain to reignite the US Eagles season. Madison Hughes regains the captain armband, as Carlin Isles recovers from injury. The Americans were somewhat in a little siesta while in Dubai and Cape Town. An interim coach might not have got the best out of them.
Hopefully, with the return of the duo, as well as big Brett Thompson, the Americans can get back to winning ways. Consistency has always been a problem for them; underestimating the opposition and not taking those small 1% chances. This has been their Achilles heel but when they turn up its ‘good night nurse’.
Big Forwards to lay platform
The big boys in the team like Andrew Durutalo, Danny Barett, Matai Leuta and Martin Iosefo should all lead from the front. The big men will lay the platform for Hughes and Folau Niua to exploit, with Perry Baker and Isles finishing off the moves. LWOR is expecting a much improved performance from the Americans.
Perry Baker’s got pace
Level : Super Sonic
4 days to the #NZ7s. Don’t miss it! pic.twitter.com/dzUIW2tKHU
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) January 24, 2017
USA Sevens squad: Carlin Isles, Matai Leuta, Danny Barrett, Brett Thompson, Don Pati, Andrew Durutalo, Folau Niua, Kevon Williams, Stephen Tomasin, Madison Hughes, Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo
French kingpin Terry Bouharaoua once again will lead the French boys, with Julien Candelon here in the Windy City. The French have called in 18-year old teen sensation, Pierre-Loius Barassi, and Bastien Berenguel to cover for Anastante Leote and Kelegh Moutome. Barassi features for Lyon in the Challenge Cup, while Berenguel plays for Stade Montois in the French Pro D2.
The French currently sit in 10th place in the standings. However, Les Bleus will still miss the services of big Fijian Virimi Vakatawa who has been called into the French Six Nations squad. A loss, but their campaign will be spearheaded by Pierre-Gilles Lakafia, Sacha Valleau, Candelon, Bouharoua together with experienced Vincent Inigo and Jean-Baptise Mazoue.
French squad: Jeremy Alcardi, Pieere Louis Barassi, Jean Paul Barraque, Bastien Berenguel, Terry Bouharaoua, Julien Candelon, Manoel Dall Igna, Alexandre Gracbling, Vincent Inigo, Pierre-Gillies Lakafia, Jonatan Laugel, Jean-Baptise Mazoue, Stepen Parez-Edo,Sacha Valleau.
It will be Sir Gordon Tietjens first tournament as Samoa’s coach. It will be an epic event as he will come up against his old Kiwi team in the opening clash. He and Stephen Betham have named a young side for this tournament, as they build for the future. Like all Pacific Island teams, playing in New Zealand is like playing at home. With ‘homeboy’ Tomasi Alosio in the team, expect one of the biggest local cheers this weekend to be for Samoa.
Tila Mealoi will once again lead the team, with senior players like Alosio, Francis Ieremia, Siaosi Asofolau, Samoa Toloa and Alefosio Tapili all here. The Manu will be expected to play an exciting, expansive game with their island flavor. However, the services of Belgium Tuatagaloa and Falemiga Selesele will be greatly missed this weekend.
Samoan squad: Alamada Motuga, Alefosio Tapili, Francis Ieremia, Joe Perez, Laaloi Leiua, Lafaele Vaa, Malu Falaniko, Neria Fomai, Samoa Toloa, Siaosi Asofolau, Silao Talimaolefono, Tofatuimoana Solia, Tomasi Alosio, Tila Mealoi.
Who Could Win Pool C?
Even with a new look side, and with the Kiwis playing for more than a fourth title, the hosts realistically are expected to come through this Pool unscathed. The biggest battle will be between Samoa and the United States–match 15 on Day One. The Americans on their day can beat any team, as can Les Bleus. The biggest question in this Pool C is “who really wants it most?”
Click here for all the Wellington Sevens fixtures.
Follow all the updates and results of the Wellington Sevens, here on LWOR with Scott Hornell and Jovilisi Waqa.
“Main photo credit”