Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Fit for type - the keys to real sevens success

Strongman New Zealand captain DJ Forbes.
Strongman New Zealand captain DJ Forbes.

What makes a successful sevens team?

"Our game is built around possession," Gordon Tietjens says.

Tietjens is arguably the best mind on the planet when it comes to sevens. He has had a plethora of freakish athletes to work with over the years but you can't just take a collection of quick brutes, throw them in a black jersey and expect them to win.

New Zealand have claimed 11 of the 14 titles on offer since the IRB Sevens World Series was formed in 1999, but what really goes into a game of sevens? What makes a team click? What type of athlete do you want?

It's all about possession, the super coach says, because if you don't have the ball you're covering plenty of turf to defend the opposition.

Kickoffs and the set-piece have taken on extra emphasis - hence the importance of a strongman like captain DJ Forbes - as the game has evolved. Because the scoring team kicks off, teams need to have the ability to contest the ball at the restart.

Sevens has become much more physical in the past few years and Tietjens says one of the biggest misconceptions he has to argue with a 15-a-side coach is that a player will shed plenty of weight under his training regime.

"The game has become more explosive," Tietjens says. "If you're going to hold on to people for long periods of time, physically, you've got to be right up there and it can become quite a physical game. I can't afford my players to lose weight. You need to have extreme levels of fitness," Tietjens says.

Despite the freestyle nature of the game, there are rehearsed moves in the backline with your designated playmaker - New Zealand's are Tomasi Cama or Gillies Kaka - calling the shots.

"We have three kick moves," Tietjens says. "We have back moves, even from broken play; sometimes we'll call separate moves because the game isn't always played at 100 miles per hour. You can be quite composed, buy a bit of time. You have to be deep for that - so depth and width are a crucial ingredient in sevens."

Because keeping the ball in hand is paramount, Tietjens' team rarely employ the kick moves.

"We may kick defensively but it would be a long kick and we'd push up in a line defensively. Chip kicks only work if you're winning by 40 or 50."

One-on-one tackling defines how a team can defend. If you miss a tackle, generally a player will be away with just the sweeper to beat.

"There's more onus on a player in a tackle to get up and offer things post-tackle. In other words, he makes the tackle and can counter-ruck because there's just no numbers in sevens," Tietjens says.

"You're accountable defensively."

The ideal player, says Tietjens, is one who can buy time and handle pressure.

"It's composure. Sevens rugby is about being composed and attacking all the space."

And if he could pick anyone to play for him, Tietjens has a clear candidate: "Sonny Bill Williams looks like the ultimate athlete."

Dress up, tune up and shine it's party time

Sun, sombreros and Sweet Caroline will feature in one of the biggest weekends on the Sevens World Series circuit in Wellington starting today.

Where
The fifth of nine legs in the series, the Wellington Sevens is regarded as one of the premier sporting events in New Zealand, and is as famous for its colourful costumes and carnival atmosphere as it is for the on-field action.

The event has been at Westpac Stadium every year since 2000, and the venue's position next to Wellington's train station makes it easily accessible for fans coming from outside of the capital city. And when else are train travellers able to share a seat with Elvis Presley, Optimus Prime or Hulk Hogan?

Who
For rugby purists, the Wellington tournament features several interesting match-ups as teams look towards 2016 and their sport's inclusion in the Olympic Games.

• Series leaders South Africa (78 points) hold a one-point lead over New Zealand in the standings. Neil Powell's side have scored consecutive tournament victories before the New Zealand leg.

• The Blitzbokke's biggest challenge in Pool A will come from an improving England side. The defending Wellington Sevens champions are fourth with 53 points, and want to become the second team to register consecutive tournament wins in Wellington.

• New Zealand have made three of the four finals in the 2013-14 series, starting with a win in the series-opening Gold Coast leg. Another win in Wellington would put the hosts back at the top of the series standings with four events remaining. Gordon Tietjens' side has won six of the 13 previous editions in the capital.

• They do battle in Pool B with Pacific Islands rivals Fiji, who are third with 56 points from four matches. Ben Ryan's side won the Dubai Sevens but were left to rue a disappointing display in Las Vegas, where they scored only eight points in the tournament.

When
Action starts today with the tournament opener between Canada and Scotland at 1pm.

New Zealand's Wellington campaign starts against Fiji at 3.06pm. They then play Spain at 5.54pm and close the day's play against France at 9.56pm.

There will be plenty of matches to keep the fans happy between each New Zealand game. Tonga and Samoa will be looking to put on a show for the large expatriate communities in Wellington when they do battle in Pool D at 4.30pm, and Canada's 8.50pm game against Argentina could decide the winner of Pool C.

The cup final is scheduled for 9.30 tomorrow night in front of an expected crowd of 32,500, most in costumes and all ready to take the party well into the night.

How
The final pool standings will dictate which divisions the teams will participate in on Saturday.

The top two teams will advance to the cup competition while the third and fourth-ranked teams will compete in the bowl and plate competitions.

Weather watch
A clear day is forecast in Wellington today, with patches of rain developing in the evening. Isolated showers are also expected for tomorrow's finals.

- NZ Herald

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