Sevens: Forbes chases golden era

By Josh Berry

DJ Forbes is quietly confident his team can clinch their fifth-straight Commonwealth Games gold, which would set them up nicely for the Rio Olympics in 2016. Photo / Getty Images
DJ Forbes is quietly confident his team can clinch their fifth-straight Commonwealth Games gold, which would set them up nicely for the Rio Olympics in 2016. Photo / Getty Images

As the All Blacks Sevens squad head to their final training camp in the Netherlands tomorrow, veteran captain DJ Forbes' young team will be quietly confident chasing their fifth-straight Commonwealth Games gold.

However, the newly-named side will approach the games in Glasgow knowing their once humble sport has entered a new era.

Until recently New Zealand's success was measured on Sevens World Series and Commonwealth Games results. But, as Forbes is well aware, Olympic success "is definitely in the back of coach Gordon Tietjens' mind".

In light of a 25-match winning streak at the Commonwealth Games, Forbes is confident his side can continue their dominance come July 26-27.

"The beauty of the team at the moment is that the level of sevens players in New Zealand is growing," Forbes said.

"What everyone's well aware of is the expectation. You're always expected to do well and our record at the Commonwealth Games does not really help the whole pressure situation."

The face of rugby sevens has changed significantly since Forbes' emergence in 2006 and, with rugby making its first appearance on the Olympic stage since 1924, he says "it's not the helter-skelter game it used to be".

The competitive environment of sevens has entered a new phase of professionalism in which players and coaches face tougher scrutiny as countries pour resources into development programmes, all in a bid to stand atop the Olympic podium.

As a result, the intensity level on the Sevens World Series has risen significantly. Kenya, Samoa, Canada and England all finished inside the top eight this year, reaffirming their status as possible threats to New Zealand's domination.

But New Zealand's 12 series wins from 15 attempts on the sevens circuit underlines their continually-strong presence in the format.

"We're still slightly ahead of the game," Forbes said. "Effectively the competition is lifting, as countries are putting a lot more emphasis on sevens. As the game evolves, it's getting a lot harder to compete and hold our pedigree."

The International Rugby Board, with ratification from the International Olympic Committee, this year announced the qualification process for Rio 2016. Brazil has been given automatic entry into the Olympics, leaving most of the remaining 11 spots to be determined by a series of regional tournaments.

The top four from the 2014-15 World Series will also qualify automatically. New Zealand have finished in the top four every year since the series started in 1999.

However, the qualification process will be the least of Forbes' worries building up to Rio 2016.

The confirmation of Olympic inclusion has sparked increased interest in sevens from players in the 15-a-side game and other codes.

Tietjens has commented on the potential sevens prowess of players such as Sonny Bill Williams and Kieran Read and competition for Olympic spots is expected to be fierce.

Faced with the possibility of union and league stars entering the sevens mix, the danger of unsettling the team environment is evident. Despite this, Forbes is confident his core group of senior players will help direct the team.

"We all know that they are awesome athletes in rugby but I'm pretty sure there won't be too many transitions straight from whatever code they're playing," Forbes says.

"I think the country will want the best athletes available to put their hand up and there is obviously going to be a chance with Titch playing them on the World Series."

For crowd-favourite Forbes, a win on the world's most elite sporting stage could indeed give him and his current squad legendary status. But he warns "it's not as easy as it looks".

"[But] with the expectation of winning, winning, winning and just focusing on the little things, we should get the right results from there."

- Herald on Sunday

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