Rugby Sevens need old hands back in fold

By Campbell Burnes

New Zealand had to operate with 11 men on day three as Sonny Bill Williams was out with a knee injury. Photo / George Novak
New Zealand had to operate with 11 men on day three as Sonny Bill Williams was out with a knee injury. Photo / George Novak

It is time for the old heads to right the listing New Zealand sevens' ship.

New Zealand are licking their wounds after a disastrous day three at the Paris tournament.

Edged 19-17 by Argentina in the Cup quarter-final, they then lost 29-19 to South Africa in the Plate semifinal, equalling their worst performance of the season, in December in Cape Town.

New Zealand had to operate with 11 men on day three as Sonny Bill Williams was out with a knee injury.

Tim Mikkelson and DJ Forbes, both vastly experienced at this level, should come right into contention for this weekend's tournament in London, the final leg of the 2015-16 World Series.

Both could have played in Paris, but with Scott Curry not yet ready, despite being with the squad, and Williams now joining Liam Messam on the injured list, coach Gordon Tietjens does not have many options, with 13 fit players to fit into 12 positions for London.

That might be the least of his concerns, after his charges again wilted under pressure. The rest of the world is catching up with New Zealand and off days are more often punished with defeat now.

They lost to Argentina after leading 17-5 into the second spell. Fitness cannot be an issue, but decision-making and mistakes under duress are issues. New Zealand also shot out to a 12-7 halftime lead against South Africa, before being run down in the second spell.

Gillies Kaka did some good things in the playmaking role, showing improvement from recent tournaments, but Tietjens opted for a softly-softly approach in re-introducing Augustine Pulu to the mix.

Williams defended well and his injury removed some starch from the middle of the field. But New Zealand are not scoring enough tries, well behind Fiji on the overall tries stats.

The Ioane brothers were the standouts, with four tries between them on the final day. The plan should mostly be to get the ball in their hands as much as possible. Akira creates, often sucking in 2-3 defenders, while Rieko has proven to be the consummate finisher.

The likes of Lewis Ormond, who scored a hat-trick in about five minutes against Portugal, was a willing worker, but the nous and commitment of Mikkelson and Forbes will be mana for this green New Zealand side. Samoa stunned Fiji 29-26 in the Paris Cup final, storming back from a 26-7 halftime deficit after losing 42-5 (!) to Fiji in pool play.

This was Samoa's first Cup win since 2012 and confirms their resurgence after a poor first half of the series.

This weekend New Zealand are grouped with Brazil, Russia and Argentina in pool play. New Zealand still lie third on the standings with 145 points, but cannot head Fiji, on 166.

- NZ Herald

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