Of 500 applicants, 96 athletes from a variety of sporting backgrounds come together this week for the second Red Bull Ignite7 and a chance to gain one of six spots in the 2020 New Zealand Sevens Development Camps. Among those athletes are seven from the Bay of Plenty. Kristin Macfarlane reports.
When a group of athletes and management staff come together to form a team - many of whom are unknown to each other and some having never played the same sport, competing in a tournament in just a few days seems inconceivable.
But that's the reality for the 96 athletes taking part in the second Red Bull Ignite7 from tomorrow at Waitakere's Trusts Arena as they join the Inferno, Bolt, Surge and Power men's and women's sevens teams for the chance to secure one of six spots in the 2020 New Zealand Sevens Development Camps.
Among those athletes, who were selected from 500 applicants, are seven based in the Bay of Plenty including Te Hemara Gardiner-Toi and Sam Tuibua in the Bolt Men's team, Veveni Lasaqa, who will play for Power Men, Tynealle Fitzgerald named in Power Women, Arorangi Tauranga in the Bolt women's team, Montessa Tairakena and Alicia Wilson in the Inferno women's team.
And there are also four coaching and management staff, based in the Bay of Plenty, who will help guide the players during the Ignite programme, which is a New Zealand Rugby search for sevens superstars.
Former New Zealand Sevens player Zar Lawrence will be the assistant coach of the Bolt Men's squad, while Black Ferns Sevens' Shiray Kaka is the assistant coach of Power Women. Belinda Mueller will manage the Inferno Women's team with Paul Pou as coach.
This is the second year of managing and coaching for Muller and Pou, who also coached and managed the Bay of Plenty Under 18 Women's side and the Rangataua women's team.
Muller, who heads to Auckland today for a managers' meeting with New Zealand Rugby and Red Bull to discuss the structure and format for the week, says Ignite7 is a unique programme that showcases talent in an exciting way.
"One of the things I think is really cool about it, is that you've got a management group and a playing group of 12 players who don't really know each other that well, and we come together for three days and then play a tournament on the Saturday," Mueller says.
"I think the whole being able to bring the team together in that short space of time and then put them out on the field and then to play really well is, I think, amazing."
Players come from all over the country to be part of Ignite7, many of whom are from other codes and have never played sevens in their lives.
Muller says they even have two athletes from Australia in their team as well as Bay of Plenty's Alicia Wilson, who is the 2019 Bay of Plenty and Coromandel Surf Life Saving Under 19 female Sportsperson of the Year.
There are also representative netballers, New Zealand Secondary Schools water polo and hockey and rugby players who will compete for six guaranteed places at the national sevens development camps.
"I've been involved with sevens for the last couple of years so I know sevens, but normally it doesn't happen like this.
"You don't just have a group of players for three days and then go out and play a tournament."
At the end of last year's inaugural event, Bay of Plenty's William Warbrick and Mererangi Paul claimed places at All Blacks and Black Ferns sevens development camps. Just last week, it was announced Warbrick had signed a two year contract with the All Blacks Sevens.
Muller will focus on providing information and support to the coaches and player welfare during Ignite7, which ends on November 23. With some of the athletes undergoing NCEA exams at the same time, she will also be tasked with the important job of making sure they make their examinations.
NZR high performance Sevens talent development manager, Chad Tuoro says it has been exciting to see players from 2018 make significant progress in their sevens careers.
"Now in year two, we're again blown away by the response and by the calibre and diverse sporting backgrounds of the athletes who have thrown their hat in the ring," said Tuoro. "It definitely made for a tough job for our selectors."
Bay of Plenty's Ignite7 representatives:
Males: Te Hemara Gardiner-Toi (Bolt Men); Sam Tuibua (Bolt Men); Veveni Lasaqa (Power Men).
Females: Tynealle Fitzgerald (Power Women); Arorangi Tauranga (Bolt women); Montessa Tairakena (Inferno women); Alicia Wilson (Inferno women).
Paul Pou: Head coach, Inferno Women.
Belinda Mueller: Manager, Inferno Women.
Zar Lawrence: Assistant coach, Bolt Men.
Shiray Kaka: Assistant coach, Power Women.