Rugby Sevens: Sevens get edge from AB stars

By Campbell Burnes

New Zealand vs South Africa during HSBC World Rugby Sevens. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand vs South Africa during HSBC World Rugby Sevens. Photo / Getty Images

In a supreme irony, the All Blacks Sevens will lean on two 15 stars to lead the way in Singapore this weekend.

All Blacks Liam Messam, who will captain the side, and Sonny Bill Williams will lend their big match experience to help usher a young New Zealand through this tournament, the eighth (of 10) on the World Series circuit. This may cause some problems as neither is in prime Sevens form at the moment.

The 32-year-old Messam has been used sparingly by coach Gordon Tietjens since he returned to the fold in Las Vegas. But he must shoulder more of a burden as DJ Forbes has returned home after almost running himself into the ground last weekend in Hong Kong, where New Zealand fell to Fiji in the Cup final.

With Tim Mikkelson and Scott Curry also out, Messam will be required to display his leadership and, in particular, lead by example, qualities.

Williams is three tournaments into his Sevens career and still appears to be coming to grips with his role in the forwards, especially around kickoffs, where the injured Sam Dickson was the kingpin.

He does some good things, but is struggling to get in sync on attack.

Tietjens, however, seems to be happy with his progress and his physicality on defence. Williams copped some justifiable criticism from Murray Mexted earlier in the week, but he is unfazed.

"I don't worry about what's going on out there. I just worry about my teammates' respect and if my coaches think I'm on the right track," says Williams. "I'm really happy with how I've been playing and where I'm at at this stage. "

Tietjens is not thinking too much further than France, first up in their pool this afternoon, as they seek to overturn the three-point World Series deficit to Fiji.

"There's no easy games in Sevens now. The French led us 17-0 in Hong Kong and we've seen the improvement in (third pool opponent) USA from the last 18 months," he said.

Antonio Kiri Kiri, Josh van Lieshout and Teddy Stanaway return to the fold. Young Isaac Te Aute, fresh out of Rotorua BHS's champion First XV, will bring much needed pace to go with Regan Ware. Gillies Kaka will have worked on his distribution in a light physical training work after some slipshod passing in Hong Kong.

Janna Vaughan comes into the New Zealand women's Sevens team for the tournament in Canada, as they seek to topple series leaders Australia. The return of Tyla Nathan-Wong for the injured Kelly Brazier, also bolsters the side.

- NZ Herald

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