Rugby: NZ attention on London placing amid Hayne circus

By Campbell Burnes

Coach Gordon Tietjens was due to name his squad overnight. Photo / AFP
Coach Gordon Tietjens was due to name his squad overnight. Photo / AFP

While much of the sevens media spotlight this week has fallen on Jarryd Hayne and the World Series champions-designate Fiji, the All Blacks Sevens have happily flown under the radar ahead of the final event in London.

They cannot head Fiji, but could overtake South Africa's Blitzbokke to claim second place. However, they will need a more concerted performance on finals day this weekend after a mediocre day three in Paris saw them bow out at the Plate semifinal stage.

Coach Gordon Tietjens was due to name his squad overnight. He had 13 fit from which to choose 12, after Liam Messam and DJ Forbes flew home to rehab ahead of the June Olympic trials.

Sonny Bill Williams had evidently recovered from the knee knock which ruled him out of day three in Paris. Tim Mikkelson makes a welcome return as skipper and brings some much-needed international experience to the group.

For all the tribulations of a roller-coaster series, Tietjens is happy with what his team have achieved in the face of adversity.

"We've had a fairly good season, to be fair. We've been ravaged by injuries. It's been horrendous. I've never seen a year like it, going back to Dubai and Cape Town [in December]. But to be second or third is not a bad effort in a competitive environment. We've had three [Cup] wins and Fiji have won three, the others one each," he said.

New Zealand face Brazil, Russia and Argentina in pool play, and will be keen for a measure of revenge on the latter, who knocked them out at the Paris Cup quarter-final stage. It will also be the last chance to stake a case for Rio before trials next month. Tietjens has indicated that he will not be looking much further than his current 16-man squad to select 14 for Rio, though Sam Dickson and Joe Webber may still come into the reckoning.

"It's going to be tough. That's why tournaments like Twickenham this weekend are really important for the players. But I can assure you, when we go to Rio, we'll have a tough side."

He was less emphatic when quizzed about the ability of Hayne to make the grade in sevens after jumping from the NRL to the NFL in 12 months.

"If he was going to make the Fiji squad [for the Olympics], he would have to play this weekend. He's a great athlete, but can he play sevens? I can't answer that," Tietjens.

The squads for London were to be finalised overnight. Fiji coach Ben Ryan, a decent man and a fine sevens coach, has already had a taste of the Hayne media circus, and he didn't like it much. One TV reporter even asked him who he (Ryan) was.

In the corresponding London event in 2015, New Zealand won the Plate final from South Africa, while USA, who are sixth on the 2015-16 standings, won their first Cup final, over Australia.

- NZ Herald

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