Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Hope not abandoned for All Blacks stars to join sevens cause

Beauden Barrett. Photo / Getty Images.
Beauden Barrett. Photo / Getty Images.

Hope has not been abandoned that a big name All Black will have a change of heart, but nor is the New Zealand Sevens team actively touting for new players ahead of their Olympic bid.

If Ben Smith suddenly decided he was keen on having a crack at the Olympics after all, it is probable that Sevens coach Sir Gordon Tietjens would be interested in helping him make that happen.

The same would be true of any player originally targeted by Tietjens - such as Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea. But while the door remains open and all possibilities on the table, it's now the longest of long shots that there will be a late addition of star quality.

The problem is timing. Smith confirmed recently that he was put off committing to sevens due to the amount of Super Rugby he'd have to miss. As captain of the defending champion Highlanders, he wanted to be available for the entire campaign and that didn't fit with the criteria imposed by Tietjens that Smith would have to play in at least two tournaments before the Olympics in August.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen suggested this was a problem for a number of players and that the scenario may be different if they could be considered without having to play as much of the abbreviated form. "The sevens [programme] couldn't be flexible enough to say, 'OK, let's just take this guy at the end of Super Rugby and play him in one or two tournaments'. Maybe Gordie would have got more people to come on board."

But there are only two tournaments left in the World Series - Paris on May 13-15 and London a week later. Tietjens plans to pick 14 players for those two tournaments and then run a week-long trail back in New Zealand starting on June 13.

A proposed list of the 12 players he wants to take to Brazil will be submitted to the NZ Olympic Committee in early July. If Smith or anyone else has a late change of heart they are going to have to pipe up quickly and in all reality be available to play in Paris and London.

As that's unlikely, the next option would be to commit but not actually play any tournaments before the team has to be named. That would be a huge risk and one that Tietjens is unlikely to take.

Besides, despite the recent performances, the New Zealand team isn't in the dire straits it may appear. For the tournament in Singapore where they finished runner up in the plate, they were missing four frontline players and that's after they lost Ben Lam and Joe Webber to longer term injuries earlier in the year.

The squad that played in Hong Kong and Asia will bare little resemblance to the one that heads to Europe. Back into the fold will come the Ioane brothers Akira and Rieko and Ardie Savea. Others who will return as injury allows include Augustine Pulu, Scott Curry, DJ Forbes, Tim Mikkleson and Sam Dickson.

Once all these players are available then the picture will change significantly. The challenge may be about knowing who to leave out rather than to keep in and that pressure will be on both Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam to deliver compelling performances at the next two tournaments.

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