Auckland have pace to burn and the Ioane brothers as they seek to make amends for a poor 2015 national sevens tournament.
The Blues have released Akira and Rieko Ioane for this weekend's event in Rotorua as they set sail for the Rio Olympics. Not all provinces have been afforded the same generosity and Auckland coach Waisake Sotutu is cognisant of that fact.
"Titch (Gordon Tietjens) has been kind enough to let us have them for this tournament and we repay the favour by trying to get them right for the rest of the (World Series) circuit," Sotutu said.
Along with the Ioanes, who can both shift, Auckland can call on the likes of Suburbs pair vice-captain Gareth Williams-Spiers and Vara Duisokosoko, both of whom are lightning-quick. Ed Fidow and Stacey Ili are also swift. Watch for youngster Akuila Rokolisoa too. He has upped his physicality to go with his speed and skill.
"It's great to have the pace, but we can't do anything unless we get everything else right," said Sotutu.
The seasoned and astute Rocky Khan will lead the side after missing last weekend's tournament in Mt Maunganui, where Auckland won the Plate but with a quite different side to the 12 who will play in Rotorua.
Sotutu, who is assisted by former NZ Sevens rep Ed Cocker, has just three returning from the 2015 nationals. Lost to bigger things in the 15s game are Mitch Karpik, Mitch Hunt and Taleni Seu. But that is the developmental nature of the provincial sevens landscape.
Auckland will face, in tomorrow's pool play, South Canterbury, Northland and hosts Bay of Plenty. Northland made the Cup final of the Mount event last weekend, and are looking sharp under coach Peter Nock, while Bay of Plenty, as hosts, have included some brilliant young talent, such as Isaac Te Aute, the star of the top 4 schools tournament in 2015. As ever, Sotutu is not looking past qualifying in the top two out of the pool.
"First thing's first. We have to play well on day one. If we play to their potential, we should be okay."
They should indeed, carrying top seed status into the nationals after winning the northern regional qualifiers last month.
Waikato are the defending men's national champions, minus Tim Mikkelson, but 2015 Cup runners-up Wellington, coached by Scott Waldrom, should also mount a strong challenge.
In the women's competition, several, though not all, the New Zealand stars are on show.
Portia Woodman is turning out for Counties Manukau, while Kayla McAlister will suit up for defending champions Auckland. The Auks are, however, missing Tyla Nathan-Wong, who is still showing concussion symptoms from the Dubai tournament last month.
The tournament will be televised live on SKY Sport from 10am tomorrow and Sunday, and can be followed at https://www.facebook.com/nationalsevens
Sonny Bill Williams will be there, but not, mystifyingly, in a playing capacity. He will be the ACC ambassador.
Auckland 7s: Rocky Khan (c), Gareth Williams-Spiers (vc), Sam Livingston, Shaun Devine, Akuila Rokolisoa, Akira Ioane, Rieko Ioane, Ed Fidow, Dave Afamasaga, Stacey Ili, Vara Duisokosoko, Matt Matich