Sevens: Counties missing big names

By Campbell Burnes

Augustine Pulu.
Augustine Pulu.

No Sonny Bill Williams, no Sherwin Stowers, no DJ Forbes, probably no Sikeli Nabou.

Counties Manukau men's sevens coach Darryl Suasua could be forgiven for tearing his hair out when he contemplates his 12-man roster ahead of the national tournament in Rotorua this weekend.

But he is philosophical about it all. He knew well ahead of the probable absences of several of his stars and he does have some good news - former All Black Augustine Pulu should be available to play.

"It was made pretty clear from NZ Rugby right from the start as to who was available and who was not. Sonny Bill was never on the cards for us," said Suasua.

Neither was DJ Forbes, who usually bypasses the national sevens. Stowers played for Counties Manukau in 2015, but is nursing a broken arm. Powerhouse forward Nabou damaged his knee at the Mt Maunganui tournament last weekend and was in severe doubt at the time of print.

Williams, for one, should definitely be playing to get him into sevens match fitness mode, rather than being thrown straight into the international area in Wellington in a fortnight.

But it is not all doom and gloom for the 2015 Cup semifinalists and three-time national champions. The side will be captained by Josh van Lieshout and Vuga Tagicakibau, two players with good sevens nous. The promising Jonathan Taumateine can kick goals and run the cutter. Tavite Gadeisuva, who was bracketed with Nabou, was the leading tryscorer in Counties Manukau club rugby in 2015, while Sione Molia has already hinted at his potential and pace with the Steelers.

"When I compare us to a lot of other teams, I don't think we have express pace across the field, like Auckland, but we are all of a similar pace," said Suasua.

Just two are returning from 2015 - Savelio Ropati and Taumateine - in what seems to be a similar scenario to several other sides with a high turnover from the 2015 nationals.

"New Zealand are trying to develop the game, but every year you have a whole new bunch of players. That's bit weird," said Suasua, who felt a meaningful provincial circuit would attract more talent to stay in sevens over the summer months.

Still, he is content with where his charges are at with their general fitness and sevens fitness. Counties Manukau were runners-up to Auckland at the regional qualifiers last month and reached the Bowl final in Mt Maunganui last weekend, though that game against North Harbour was scrapped due to a hefty injury toll on the Counties Manukau side.

"We've got to be happy with what we've got going. The guys have worked hard. The nationals are a big buzz to get that far after training all the way through, while others are having their Christmas cheer at the beach," he said.

Suasua would love to go deep into the tournament this weekend, after dipping out to Wellington at the Cup semifinal stage in somewhat controversial fashion in 2015. First they will need to finish in the top two of their pool, which includes North Harbour, Mid Canterbury and Wanganui.

- NZ Herald

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