Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby Sevens: Rio's Samba Sevens groove

As 10-time world series champions, New Zealand's pedigree in the sevens game is a magnet for would-be Olympic squads. Photo / Getty Images
As 10-time world series champions, New Zealand's pedigree in the sevens game is a magnet for would-be Olympic squads. Photo / Getty Images

Rugby Sevens' addition to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic programme is resulting in global demand for New Zealand coaching expertise.

As 10-time world series champions since the international circuit started in 1999, New Zealand's pedigree in the game is hard to match.

Countries such as Olympic hosts Brazil, China and India have sought or are seeking help. More countries are expected to tap into that knowledge base as 2016 Games budgets are finalised in the coming months.

Russia is another example of a country seeking to expand into the sport. Moscow hosts the World Cup in June next year.

Steve McHardy, general manager of the International Rugby Academy New Zealand, says they are now tailoring courses for what they expect to be an overseas thirst for sevens knowledge. The courses include input from sevens doyens such as Craig de Goldi, Karl Te Nana and former All Black Christian Cullen.

"We're starting to run specialised sevens coaching courses [the next one is from October 19-21] to cater for what we see is a surge in the market," McHardy says.

"There is a lack of quality sevens coaches because the past focus from the IRB and most national unions was on 15-a-side. That is changing so we're customising programmes to deal with it.

"There is an expectation the game will explode leading to 2016 in Brazil. It's a direction we're happy to go in. There are a lot of developing nations who struggle with the resources required to make inroads in 15s, but in sevens, they see a real opportunity. Kenya's success is a good example since the advent of the world series.

"With the IRB investing money and, in many cases, the access to national Olympic funds, it is a fledgling industry. The Caribbean and Asia are two examples. We hosted India as they prepared for the Delhi Commonwealth Games. A lot of the Caribbean nations have natural speed and for the US it could be appealing for guys who can't quite cut it in the NFL. Murray [Mexted, IRANZ founder and former All Black] is doing a lot of work with them."

ON THE provincial front, Canterbury and Taranaki lead the way. Canterbury has signed a development deal with the Brazilian Rugby Confederation while Taranaki is working with Beijing's Xiannongtan Athletics School, which has produced several Olympic champions.

Canterbury and Crusaders rugby boss Hamish Riach says it's an honour to partner the Olympic hosts but the overall aim is to advance rugby's global development.

"The Brazilians are ambitious and we believe there is a real upside internationally.

"It came out of a presentation I delivered in Auckland at the World Cup.

"The president of the Brazilian union got in touch afterwards. We realise it's a partnership with people who want to see rugby maximised.

"Obviously Brazil is a country dominated by football but they have lofty goals to get rugby recognised on a par with sports like basketball andvolleyball."

"Essentially it is a high-performance programme encompassing strength, conditioning, knowledge, fitness; the whole gamut. They'll be coming out to work with us. They'll have camps and play locally. In turn we'll also be helping them out of their base in Sao Paulo."

Canterbury provincial coaching team Tabai Matson and Scott Robertson have been dispatched on reconnaissance missions. It is estimated Brazil has about 10,000 players in 115 teams but their president Sami Arap Sobrinho has been quoted as saying they want to increase that to 500,000 players by 2030 in a country of almost 200 million people.

Meanwhile, Taranaki will be hosting a camp for 46 Chinese comrades (including coaches) during November and December. The relationship has evolved after 18 months' work by former chief executive officer Mark Robinson and former player development manager Michael Collins.

Building blocks included the Taranaki union hosting a Chinese delegation during the World Cup. Xiannongtan Athletics School hopes to have players in the Chinese Olympic squad as a result.

The programme will be delivered by a number of Taranaki rugby's high-performance team including provincial coach Colin Cooper, former Scotland sevens coach Jono Phillips and current national sevens skills coach Clark Laidlaw. National sevens coach Gordon Tietjens will also work with the group for two days.

- Herald on Sunday

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