Allan Pollock is having his first crack at coaching sevens and he is liking what he has seen - and could see - from a young, but talented, North Harbour squad ahead of the provincial nationals this weekend in Rotorua.
Pollock, who guided North Harbour's 15s team to their first, and only, Ranfurly Shield, in 2006, will be assisted by John McKittrick, who has a wealth of sevens coaching experience.
North Harbour lost the 2016 Cup final at the nationals, and have just Ben Smith and Jona Tuitoga returning from that team, so they are something of an unknown quantity, especially after mixed results in last week's tournament in Mt Maunganui and last month's northern regional qualifiers. North Harbour had to default the Bowl final in Mt Maunganui due to injuries. Just two players are over the age of 23.
The skipper is veteran Luke Hamilton, while the pace will come from the likes of Tuitoga and Mark Telea, who showed promise in the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup. The playmaking mantle will be assumed by Tumanawa Tawhai and Matt McGahan, the latter unwanted at Super Rugby level, but a good talker with a skillset that can see him slot into centre if need be.
Watch out for Lewis Gjaltema, out of Orewa College. He played for the 2015 NZ Barbarians Schools, is trialling for the New Zealand Under 20s this year, and will suit up at hooker in the sevens this weekend.
"We're young and we're novices," says Pollock. "We'd like to win, but based on the work we had to get through and avoiding injuries, we're happy with where we're at."
With just three 15s forwards in the 12-man squad, North Harbour have no shortage of speed or evasiveness. The aim, of course, will be to finish in the top two of a pool that includes favourites Waikato, Hawke's Bay and Southland.
"Sevens being sevens, you've got two lots of seven minutes to prove your point, and the form book goes out the window," says Pollock. "Having nine new boys going to nationals, to say they are excited would be an understatement."
Several skilled sevens player were unlucky to miss selection.
"I haven't picked the best 12 sevens players in North Harbour. It's position-specific," says Pollock.
*North Harbour's women's team, who placed eighth in 2016, face Manawatu, Waikato and Otago in Saturday's pool play.
North Harbour men's squad: Luke Hamilton (c), Jona Tuitoga, Benjamin Smith, Matt McGahan, Lewis Gjaltema, Tate Evans, Moses Leo, Dillon O'Leary, Ethan Roots, Marty Swart, Raniera Takarangi, Mark Telea, Tumanawa Tawhai