New Zealand Sevens Hub Created; New Coach, New Direction in 2017

RUGBY: MAR 04 USA Sevens - England v New Zealand
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Like many high performance sports, rugby sevens is becoming more organized in it’s approach. From the training, skills improvement, mental and physical well being, to having all athletes together. This is a successful way to build a team dynamic. So with the New Zealand Sevens new hub being formalized in the Bay of Plenty, more success and a new direction in 2017 looks likely.

Clark Laidlaw has assumed his role completely now, after an interim period during the 2016/17 season which was disappointing. His full time position now see’s the men’s side take up a permanent hub that will be centralized out of ‘the Bay.

“Previously players would spend anywhere between 150-170 nights a year away from home. Centralisation will reduce this by up to 50 nights a year, delivering more time together but less time away from the important support networks of family and loved ones.”

Laidlaw and New Zealand Rugby (NZR) have chosen the Bay of Plenty region due to a longstanding relationship between sevens and the area. Tauranga and Rotorua have been cities where rugby sevens were centered, that the previous management of Sir Gordon Tietjens based himself from.

Rotorua is the current home of the National Sevens championship, where Last Word on Rugby met Laidlaw in January. Then he was keen to build a knowledge-base on the organization, and to understand where the game stood. With that done and with the New Zealand Sevens training ‘hub’ created, the new head coach Clark Laidlaw is making his mark on the Sevens program.

Laidlaw is hoping for better fortunes for the new season; with the 2017/18 HSBC Sevens Series only weeks away. The choice to open a central hub is a natural continuity to stay in the Tauranga area. By developing a permanent base at Blake Park, NZR have invested in a long term goal for the men’s and women’s teams.

New Zealand Sevens Hub Created; New Coach, New Direction in 2017

While the women’s team enjoyed success last year, in capturing their fourth series championship, the men were erratic–continuing a poor recent record. While Laidlaw was not directly in control, he will have felt as responsible as his interim coaching team of Tomasi Cama and Scott Waldrom.

For the All Blacks Sevens, 2017 is about leading a new direction. To install a new base from which to make their assault on the upcoming world series. And it must be a planned one, to redress the failings of the last 24 months, and look toward a busy year ahead.

While not claiming a title in two seasons, the side has seen players and coaches leave the group. Most notably, DJ Forbes has decided to ‘hang up his boots’. A huge figure within the NZ sevens game, his shoulders would often carry the team. 2017 must see that weight shared.

NZ Sevens; Life Without DJ Forbes

Scott Curry and Tim Mikkelson are the most notable names within the team. Leaders and often, game breakers, the two players will be looked on for their experience and mana. The respect that a man like Mikkelson has across the world of sevens is needed especially, to become the bedrock that a new team can be set on.

Others like Joe Webber, Regan Ware and Isaac Te Tamaki will need to hold the own–on the field, and within the group [literally].

The player roster will be finalized shortly, but one returning name is Kurt Baker. At one time, he was brought in alongside names like Sonny Bill Williams and Akira Ioane, in a hope that the XV’s players might bring their skillset into the Sevens environment.

Many will recall that experiment as being a failed one. It was far-fetched, and men like Baker were at odds with then coach, Sir Gordon. Baker revolted, and was cast aside. But now, Laidlaw has re-engaged the talented rugby player.

“It’s great to have Kurt Baker back; he is highly motivated, brings experience and a great competitive mentality which will be great for our group.”

2017/18 HSBC Season Needs a Strong Start

With the side now having a permanent base–rather than staggered ‘get togethers’ and sessions–it must show rewards early. The opening leg of the HSBC Sevens Series is less than 50 days away. That needs to be focused upon, and to begin well.

The coaching group has been formalized. Alongside Laidlaw, Cama retains a place–now as Attack Coach. Laidlaw has said that “having Tomasi sevens’ brain in the coaching line-up will be a huge asset.

“He is arguably the best playmaker the All Blacks Sevens have ever produced and we’ll be looking to transfer his knowledge of the game and attacking expertise onto the current crop of players”. That is true, and the continuity of Cama’s voice is a vital choice.

Although Waldrom has not been retained, when asked by Last Word on Rugby how he saw the game progressing, he is optimistic that the NZ side can recover. Aware that the game is evolving, Waldrom believes the players need to be wholly focused and have the right skills to match the modern game.

“The players are getting more physical, it’s certainly becoming a tougher, you know ‘faster, bigger, stronger’ players. And I think that sevens is always a game where teams are looking to try something new.

“It’s an exciting point, it’s an opportunity for someone to come in and try something different”.

Coaching Group Needs to Sharpen Skills Ahead of New Season

Replacing Waldrom is former All Black Liam Barry. Chosen for his wide range of skills and experience, he had been the Head Coach at Ricoh in Japan for two years, before returning to New Zealand last year.

“Liam brings a huge wealth of coaching experience to the team, as well as very important connections to our Super Rugby teams and provincial rugby in New Zealand. It was critical to me that we had someone in our coaching team with a deep knowledge of rugby in this country, at all levels, and could use those connections to the benefit of the All Blacks Sevens,” said Laidlaw.

As well as Barry and Cama, look for Laidlaw to work closely with Alan Dudding–head coach of the women’s side. His knowledge and input will be highly valuable. With both teams using the hub, it will build a strong culture….one of success and of shared resources and methodologies.

This approach is similar to other high performance centers, and one where a winning culture can be driven. Excellence is something that New Zealand Sevens has been known for. Now, with such an important 12 months ahead, whoever can start their season best, will go far in the World Rugby Seven Series.

The men’s coaching group will need to ‘sharpen the skills’ of the team. Filling the void left by DJ Forbes will be one task. Formulating a plan to rebound from recent poor performances will also be critical.

Both the men and women will have high hopes for the new season; looking toward the Commonwealth Games in April, and ultimately the Rugby World Cup Sevens in July 2018.


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