Rugby: Last hurrah for depleted All Blacks Sevens

By Campbell Burnes

Scott Curry. Photo / File.
Scott Curry. Photo / File.

More injuries means more opportunities for new players in the All Blacks Sevens as they approach the final leg of the World Series in London tonight.

Scott Waldrom will hand over the side to incoming coach Clark Laidlaw on June 1 and if the side play with as much freedom and yet low error rate as they did in their third placing in Paris last weekend, then Laidlaw will have a solid platform from which to work.

They won five out of six games, though were outclassed in the semifinals by new world champions South Africa, who won their fifth tournament in nine attempts.

In New Zealand's pool are Japan, Canada and third-ranked Fiji, so Cup quarter-final qualification should be relatively straightforward, despite Canada embarrassing New Zealand last month in Singapore.

It means a Cup showdown against either Scotland, France or Argentina, which is eminently winnable. Scotland made the Cup final in Paris last weekend and were third in Wellington, but have proven very inconsistent this season.

Rocky Khan (calf injury) Sione Molia (shoulder) and Jamie Booth (quad) were not available for selection after sustaining injuries in last weekend's Paris tournament. In comes Tamati Samuels of Hawke's Bay for his debut, while Jesse Houston of Canterbury, unused in Paris, will make his first start, and Andrew Knewstubb returns from injury.

"Despite so many players being out injured, we came together well in Paris with a relatively inexperienced side and produced some good sevens rugby. With a bit more time together this week we are hoping to do even better in the final tournament of the series. Our goal is to play exciting and consistent rugby," says Waldrom.

"Rocky, Sione and Jamie have sustained injuries in Paris, so we've had to go beyond our group of contracted players to bring in Jesse and Tamati for this tournament. It means we have the opportunity to give more players experience and they can prove themselves at international level after strong showings at this year's nationals.

"We have a very competitive pool. Canada won the recent Singapore tournament and will be very confident after beating us in the quarter-final of that tournament, and playing our old rivals Fiji is always a tough game. But to win tournaments you have to win all your games, and we will be taking it one match at a time and our first focus will be the improving Japanese side coached by Kiwi Damian Karauna.

"This year has been focused on rebuilding, blooding new talent and developing a new game plan. There's been a lot we're proud of and it would be great to end this series on a high."

New Zealand will likely finish in fourth position overall, their lowest World Series placing ever, but have on occasion played very good sevens, uncovering Vilimoni Koroi as a young playmaker with a deep bag of tricks and wide skillset. The search for consistency, however, is an ongoing work-on.

The squad for London is:
DJ Forbes (Counties Manukau, c), Sam Dickson (Canterbury), Trael Joass (Tasman),Tim Mikkelson (Waikato), Regan Ware (Bay of Plenty), Tone Ng Shiu (Tasman), Joe Webber (Bay of Plenty), Tamati Samuels (Hawke's Bay), Fa'asiu Fuatai (Otago), Sherwin Stowers (Counties Manukau), Jesse Houston (Canterbury), Andrew Knewstubb (Canterbury); 13th man: Lewis Ormond (Taranaki)

Schedule for All Blacks Sevens' London pool play:
Day 1: May 20/21
8.52pm NZT v Japan
11.58pm NZT v Canada
3.04am NZT v Fiji
Day 2: May 21/22
Finals day

- NZ Herald

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