Master Kesi O'Neill is hardly the first coach to use the unique geography of Mauao against his athletes and he surely will not be the last. That, as they say, is the rub.

"We're just trying to give them some of the fresh air of the Bay of Plenty - show them what the Mount is all about," said Kesi, who as high performance manager is based in Mount Maunganui.

"It's an eye opener for them - tomorrow they will be running straight up and they have just done three laps around.

"Most of these athletes have never been to the Bay. I tell them now they know why the sevens team is so good - they train here. This is where Gordon comes to kill them."


Fighters have converged from all around the country for an intensive programme including strength and conditioning, sparring and sports psychology.

With the teams' opposition in March at both the junior world champs and preceding Youth Olympic qualifiers to consist of highly experienced, motivated fighters, Kesi is leaving no stone unturned to best prepare his young contingent.

That includes taking his fighters to as many high-level sporting events and trainings as possible to instil professionalism and pride in representing their country.

"They are good in their sport but it lets them know that they are the same and need to be explosive off the mark."

Two spots are up for grabs at the international event for both males and females across four weight divisions.

Kesi's staff, including coaches Filo Tiumalu and Gina Guo, trainer Darryl June, and managers Hayley Storey and Tim Urquhart will use next month's Youth Games in Hamilton to assess the fighters ahead of another five-day camp in January. Bay of Plenty fighters Jamie Kawiti, Sam Jacobs and Tayla Price are considered strong chances for final selection.