The 2 reasons why New Zealand are a good bet for gold in Glasgow

1. The Kiwis only focus on their next game

Gordon Tietjens men do not tend to get ahead of themselves thinking about the draw and potential opponents. They play what’s in front of them with the players at their disposal. The country is not sympathetic to injuries and luck.

A standard is set and there is sufficient depth to demand that from any person pulling on the jersey.

Focusing on the job at hand partly comes down to experience with DJ Forbes leading from the front. He keeps a respectful eye on opponents and ensures the players’ feet remain firmly on the ground. Mikkleson, Raikubula, Cama, Stowers and Curry also embody the ethos.

The culture within the New Zealand camp is their greatest asset. Players come and go. Ego’s are (largely) kept in check. An elite level of fitness and performing under pressure are the hallmarks rather than blistering pace or block-busting runners.

Contrast that with Fiji (even though they are not playing in Glasgow). When it comes to rugby, the whole country only wants to beat the All Blacks. It’s a worthy goal for certain but it can affect other performances and is just not the kind of mentality that wins World Series. More on FIji below.

2. New Zealand’s range of performance is narrower than their opponents

Fiji and South Africa are both fully capable of beating New Zealand. They both have the players and their best performance on the day is usually enough to beat New Zealand – even when the Kiwis are playing their best.

Fiji can be sublime. They can make the game look easy as they stride out, back flip to a team mate who then passes inside to another of equal or greater pace. And that’s often just the forwards. It is a joy to watch Fiji in full flight. There’s nothing like it in world rugby.

They put 44 points on New Zealand in the semi-final at Dubai last year and showed why they have the most talented 7s players in the world.

But their tendency to focus solely on New Zealand and the occasional lapse in concentration has seen them fall out of contention on Day#2 at World Series events – something that’s never happened to the Kiwis.

South Africa beat New Zealand twice in finals in the last World Series (South Africa and USA). The USA was the 3rd time in a row beating the Kiwis at Sam Boyd Stadium for the title.

The Blitzbokke are an extremely talented bunch. Chris Dry is one of the most athletic forwards in the game. Alongside the hard working Frankie Horne and Kyle Brown, they make a formidable pack.

Branco duPreez is superb and a fit Cecil Afrika is still the best player in the world. The pace and strength of Seabelo Senatla and the work rate and pace of Werner Kok round out a balanced, potent back line.

But things fell apart at the final hurdle in Wellington in February losing 0-21 to New Zealand. They were stopped at the Plate semi-fInal stage in Scotland by Kenya (7-14) and didn’t go that much better in London the following week winning the Plate.

These fluctuations do not affect New Zealand like they do other teams.

And this is why they are always in with a shout no matter what the occasion.

Is Lote Raikubula’s international 7s career over?

Lote RaikubulaThe Fijian Great has played in 63 tournaments in the IRB World 7s Series – 4th on the all-time most appearances list. DJ Forbes is the only player higher than Raikubula on the list who is still playing.

  1. Uale Mai 79
  2. Ben Gollings 70
  3. DJ Frbes 64
  4. Lote Raikubua 63

Raikubula has been an integral part of the  vastly experienced core of the All Black 7s with fellow Fijian Tomasi Cama (59), DJ Forbes (64) and Tim Mikkleson (49).

But Raikubula has been left out of the last 2 trips by Sir Gordon Tietjens, not wanted for the Tokyo, Hong Kong, Glasgow or London events.

He’s 30 and so not exactly over the hill but for the moment his place has been taken by 18 year old Akira Ione as Tietjens looks to the future. With the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow at the end of July this is not a good time to be on the fringes.

And things are only going to get more competitive in the build up to the Rio Olympics in 2016.

After the 2015 15-a-side World Cup there will be 3-4 additional forwards pushing for selection. This is likely to include Sonny-Bill Williams and prior 7s stars Victor Vito and Liam Messam.

Given Ione’s meteoric rise there’s every chance that another teenager could come shooting through the ranks.

Adam Whitelock, Canterbury

Sir Titch pulls another left field selection

Adam Whitelock, CanterburyAdam Whitelock has been drafted into the playing 12 for the Glasgow and London 7s tournaments to be played over the next 3 weeks as the 2013-14 World 7s Series comes to a close.

Whitelock – a utility back with an average level of pace – is a surprise selection having not featured in Regional or National 7s events and not having been part of any previous All Black 7s training squad.

Initial thoughts were that he will probably be used at centre in 7s coming into the back line off the bench. But Sir Titch says he’s going to play in the forwards. With Mikkleson back in the backs that still makes it a 6 forwards – 6 backs split which is a little strange when 4 backs take the field and only 3 forwards.

Brother of the Crusaders trio Sam, George and Luke, Adam Whitelock is a regular for Canterbury’s ITM Cup team but he lacks the presence, pace or x-factor to be considered a serious Super Rugby presence.

It remains to be seen what kind of impact he will have in 7s. Tietjens has pointed to his superior fitness but it surely takes more than that.

Joe Webber is the other change from the team that played in Japan and Hong Kong. The quick-stepping Waikato man will probably line up at first receiver next to Gillies Kaka.

Marty MacKenzie and George Tilsley have been dropped after being part of the victorious team at the Hong Kong 7s.

There is no place for Fijian stalwarts Tomasi Cama or Lote Raikubula. Cama is probably still in the mix but with the emergence of Akira Ione and Tietjens’ preference for Bryce Heem, Raikubula could be on the outer.

Sonny-Bill Williams is also looming as a threat to Raikubula’s chances of playing at the Rio Olympics.

All Black 7s
Scott Curry
Ambrose Curtis
Sam Dickson
DJ Forbes (c)
Bryce Heem
Akira Ioane
Gillies Kaka
Ben Lam
Tim Mikkelson
Sherwin Stowers
Joe Webber
Adam Whitelock

Kiwis get a favorable draw in Tokyo

It’s a 2 horse race for the World Series title with New Zealand leading on 99 points and South Africa right behind on 97. With 4 events to go, it’s wide open between these 2. Fiji are in 3rd spot but they are 24 points off the pace and so unlikely to overtake the top 2 sides.

First thing’s first and that’s getting to the Cup Quarter Finals on day #2 and that means coming in 1st or 2nd in pool play – which Sir Gordon Tietjens’ men should manage.

The All Black 7s are in Pool A with the in-form Canadians, Wales and Portugal.

Day #2

In the Quarter Finals, the winner of Pool A will play the runner up from Pool C which includes England, Australia, Scotland and Spain so likely to be either Australia or England. Both of these sides are capable but if the Kiwis are firing, they will fancy their chances.

After that it’s anyone’s guess because they could meet Fiji, Samoa or South Africa in the semi-finals.

As far as the draw goes, there are no real surprises and no stacked pools like their have been in previous tournaments this series.

There’s not really a pool of death just a hard slog of several teams who will be looking to regain form like Wales who need to get by Canada or New Zealand and France who will have to get by Fiji or Samoa. Kenya have Argentina and South Africa in their pool so no easy path for them either.

Hopefully the weather will play its part for a great tournament at Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground because it’s been wet and cold there the last 2 years.

Lote Raikubula Wellington & All Black 7s

Sir Titch springs 2 surprises with his team for the 2014 Tokyo and Hong Kong7s

1. Taranaki’s Marty MacKenzie gets the call up to international 7s

Marty MacKenzie, Southland and All Black 7s

The first is the selection of Marty MacKenzie.

The ex-Southland man was not wanted by the Blues un Super Rugby this year and rather than return to his native Southland, he chose Taranaki as the place to re-launch himself in 15s rugby for the ITM Cup.

But he was (somehow) called into the All Black 7s squad and now he gets the nod ahead of the more experienced Mark Jackman as cover for Tomasi Cama in the playmaker role.

2. Lote Dropped

Lote Raikubula and Tomasi Cama at the Auckland 7s

Lote Raikubula and Tomasi Cama at the Auckland 7s

The second surprise is the dropping of Lote Raikubula.

Tietjens has gone with Scott Curry, Sam Dickson, Bryce Heem and Akira Ione to mix it with captain DJ Forbes in the forwards.

That’s more size than he has used in a while because he often mixes backline players in his forwards (Tim Mikkleson, Bryce Heem and Raikubula).

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The real test will some next year when Tietjens starts to shape his ideas for the Olympics and whether experienced players like Raikubula start to be over-taken by younger ones.

For me there is a 3rd surprise and that’s the inclusion of George Tilsley.

Not because I don’t think he is a good player but because of a lack of discipline he showed in Las Vegas and then again in Wellington with tip tackles that could have cost the team dearly (and earned him yellow cards or suspensions).

Waisake Naholo is still nursing a knee injury and Tomasi Cama is also out with injury.

The general shape of the team looks a lot like the one used in Wellington where Tim Mikksleson played in the backline (first receiver) and Sherwin Stowers in the midfield. Ben Lam and Curtis Ambrose are the wide options.

All Black 7s team for Tokyo and Hong Kong
Scott Curry
Ambrose Curtis
Sam Dickson
DJ Forbes (capt)
Bryce Heem
Gillies Kaka
Akira Ioane
Ben Lam
Marty McKenzie
Tim Mikkelson
Sherwin Stowers
George Tilsley

New Zealand women look good on Day#1 at the USA7s in Atlanta

New Zealand started their campaign with a 21-0 win over the Netherlands.

Michaela Blyde got her first start for New Zealand as coach Horan rested Linda Itunu and Portia Woodman.

It was a small forward line with back line players Carla Hohepa and Hazel Tubic up front with Sarah Goss.

The match started as an arm wrestle with New Zealand doing most of the attacking and the Dutch defence holding strong. That was until Kayla McAllister got the ball 60 metres out and showed why she is the Player of the Year scoring from range to open her account.

18 year old Michaela Blyde scored her first international try 2 minutes into the 2nd half off a deceptive step inside the 2 cover defenders.

Gayle Broughton and Jordan Webber also got their first taste of international play coming on in the second half.

Last year’s top try scorer Portia Woodman finished the game with a great try from 50 metres.

There were some nervous mistakes and handling errors but it was a comfortable victory and new players got their first touches. The Netherlands are an experienced outfit with skill and size so coach Horan would have been happy enough while knowing his team could/would do more as the day went on.

36-7 over Ireland

Debutants Jordan Webber and Gayle Broughton got a start against Ireland – a team growing in stature on the world scene. In 15s rugby Ireland are the defending 6 Nations champions and so several of their top players are part of that campaign which is going on now.

That said, this is still a competitive outfit. Who would have thought that Ireland would have this kind of depth in their women’s rugby ranks?

Broughton scored first and then Selica Winiata added a try and 2 conversions to give New Zealand a comfortable 19-0 lead at half time. Portia Woodman was the other first half scorer.

Winiata than got her 2nd try 20 seconds into the second spell. Then Sarah Goss and Tyla Nathan-Wong concluded the scoring for the Kiwis.

Nicole Caughly finished the game with a converted try to get Ireland on the board and finish with something for their toil.

England 5 – 14 New Zealand

The real test came at the very end of the day against a more experienced England side that included Heather Fisher ad Danielle Waterman. Last year’s captain Michaela Staniford was also flown in to bolster the side having played in the 6 Nations.

New Zealand scored first with a try to Carla Hohepa stepping inside the defence on the right. Hohepa is being used in the forwards but offers a great attacking option out wide.

Danielle Waterman scored for England in the middle of the second half to close the gap to 7-5.

17 year old Gayle Broughton came on for Player of the Year Kayla McAllister in a courageous move by coach Sean Horan. There were just 2 points in it and the match was very tight.

Gayle Broughton

But perhaps there was no risk. Perhaps Broughton is one of those young players who can step up to the pace and handle the pressure of international competition. It happens every now and then. Horan would have been keen to see how his young star handled the occasion.

Far from looking overawed, Broughton scored from her first touch, dummying the defender in the line then stepping the sweeper to run in for the try that sealed the result for the Kiwis.

After scoring a try in the Ireland match, this capped off a sensation debut for the young Taranaki play maker.

New Zealand will meet Japan in the Cup quarter finals on Day#2

If they win, they will meet the winner of the Russia v Spain Cup quarter final.

Wellington 7s – Quarter Final Predictions

Bowl Quarter Finals

Wales v Tonga

Sadly this has not been a good event for Tonga so far. It hasn’t been great for Wales either but they should have too much in this match.

Our pick: Wales

Scotland v Spain

Scotland improved as the day went on. Andrew Turnbull returned to the side having missed Las Vegas. Turnbull and Colin Gregor  are a great attacking pair.

Spain had an extremely tough pool with New Zealand, Fiji and France but they did give the French a scare scoring leading 15-14 with one minute to play. They scored 3 tries in the 15-21 loss.

Our pick: Scotland

Kenya v Portugal

After making the final last year, Kenya have failed to fire this time around. That said, Portugal have a lot of key players out with their 15-a-side team playing World Cup qualifiers at the moment.

Our pick: Kenya

France v United States

Carlin Isles scored 2 great tries on Day#1 after getting more game time than in previous tournaments. If the USA can get him and Nick Edwards into space, they have a chance. It looked like Zac Test may have suffered an injury on Day#1 so without him, they will struggle.

France are France. They had moments of brilliance and moments of disaster culminating in a terrible performance against the All Blacks last night.

Our pick: France

Cup Quarter Finals

England v Samoa

Samoa have had the better of the last 2 encounters between the teams but this England side look particularly focused this time around. They are very well balanced and quick all over the park.

Samoa will need to be disciplined and accurate.

Our pick: England

Canada v New Zealand

The Kiwis were not convincing on Day#1 while the Canadians continue to impress. Sean Duke, Nathan Hiryama and Ciaran Hearn were back and starting to move freely.

Add Phil Mack, Nanyak Dala, John Moonlight and the 2 Connors and this is a very competent unit.

Our pick: New Zealand

Australia v South Africa

South Africa were also not convincing yesterday but good teams know how to get it together on the last day.

Australia looked very good on Day#1 and could upset the series leaders but they will need to be very attentive on defence. Even though there are injuries in the South African camp, Branco du Preez and Cecil Afrika can burn any team with the smallest of gaps in their defence.

Our pick: South Africa

Fiji v Argentina

Argentina finished second in their pool after losing to Canada. They have ability on attack through Garrido, Rivol, Schultz and Diego Palma.

Fiji beat New Zealand in a tight wet match yesterday and made short work of France and Spain. Osea Kolinisau looked to have sustained a knock but even without their captain, this Fijian team look like champions.

Our pick: Fiji

How did we do with our picks from Day One?

A quick count up looks like we got 20 out of 24 right.

Gayle Broughton

Blyde and Broughton to play in Atlanta – NZ Women’s 7s team

Taranaki teenagers Michaela Blyde (18) and Gayle Broughton (17) have made the travelling squad for the USA 7s in Atlanta.

They were in top form for Taranaki at the Nationals in January and were rewarded with contracts last month.

Both women played in the match during Day One of the Wellington 7s and both were part of the Rugby Girl Foundation exhibition match for developing players last year as well.

World Series top try scorer Portia Woodman returns from an injury that has kept her out since the World Cup.

Portia Woodman

World Series top try scorer Portia Woodman will make her return in Atlanta

Kelly Brazier remains on the injured list with Vaine Greig and Honey Hireme is also out.

This gives the team a small look. Coach Sean Horan looks to convert several back line players into utility forwards. The tactic has worked for Sir Gordon Tietjens on the mens side so we will see what happens for the women.

There are only 2 real forwards in the side. Auckland’s Linda Itunu and Manawatu’s Sarah Goss.

Horan has played Hazel Tubic in the forwards and it looks like Carla Hohepa and touch convert Alexis Tapsell will also spend time up front.

The Canadian, English and United States teams have a very physical approach. Players like Heather Fisher, Jennifer Kisch and Jillion Potter take a lot of stopping.

The Team

Linda Itunu (Auckland)
Carla Hohepa (Auckland)
Hazel Tubic (Counties)
Alexis Tapsell (Canterbury)
Sarah Goss (Manawatu)
Gayle Broughton (Taranaki)
Tyla Nathan Wong (Auckland)
Michaela Blyde (Taranaki)
Huriana Manuel (Auckland)
Selica Winiata (Manawatu)
Portia Woodman (Auckland)
Kayla McAlister (Auckland)

Akira Ione, All Black 7s

New Zealand will meet Canada in the Quarter Finals on Day#2 of the Wellington 7s

It was an interesting first day at the New Zealand 7s in Wellington.

The sun was out and it was looking like another warm day in the capital. People were out and about, the waterfront was busy but typically, there weren’t many people in Westpac Stadium when the first matches were played.

The first matches were played in near perfect conditions. The grass was like a carpet.

Then it started to rain.

At 3pm the All Black 7s faced Fiji in their first game and lost 14-7.

Coach Gordon Tietjens started with a tall team.

DJ Forbes, Scott Curry and Bryce Heem were up front and Gillies Kaka, Tim Mikkleson, Ben Lam and Sherwin Stowers were in the back line.

Tomasi Cama was on the bench with fellow Fijian Lote Raikubula.

It was interesting that Tietjens played both Stowers and Lam at the same time. Both men tend to play wide on attack and therefore often substitute for each other.  I suspect this was more about experience and strength because this was always going to be a physical, close encounter.

The rain got quite heavy so the ball and the surface were slippery.

Sherwin Stowers is wrapped up by Levani Botia

Sherwin Stowers is wrapped up by Levani Botia

The game was close al the way through. The conditions did not facilitate throwing the ball too wide or trying to jink through gaps. Patience and precision would be required. But neither side played with all that much of either.

Emosi Mulevoro was yellow carded for a not giving the ball up immediately after a penalty was awarded to the All Blacks. It was soft and annoying but that’s 7s. But the Kiwis were not able to take advantage. Instead, Scott Curry was yellow carded soon after Fiji were restored to their full compliment.

Curry had no complaint. It was a professional foul holding back a player without the ball. It probably saved a try but Fiji scored anyway with the numerical advantage.

The conversion missed and the score was Fiji 5-0 New Zealand at half time. The home side had had a couple of half chances but failed to make more of their opportunities

Then 2 minutes into the second spell, Sherwin Stowers scored and the conversion put the Kiwis ahead 7-5.

The crowd was right behind their team and the usual healthy contingent of FIjian supporters were making plenty of noise also.

Speedster Samisoni Viriviri scored the winning try after getting by breaking through up the middle in a soft tackle attempt by

Samisoni Viriviri

Fijian speedster Samisoni Viriviri scored the winning try in a tight, tense battle between the greatest foes in World 7s

18 year old Akira Ione came on as a sub with 2 minutes to play. New Zealand had a chance when they had possession in the dying seconds but debutant Ione botched a lob pass in contact that was too high risk for the conditions and his experience level.

On the positive side Ione would learn from the occasion and provided the Kiwis could get past Spain and France, they would still advance to the quarter finals and Day#2 is always a different ball game.

… and that’s what happened.

Spain posed no threat at all and were dispatched 55-0.

Ben Lam, All Black 7s

Big Ben Lam waltzes through a weak Spanish defence

France had a real chance of causing an upset and getting themselves into the quarter final with their second win at the group stage.

But it was not to be. It seemed like the French had talked themselves out of this one before they started.

Bryce Heem, All Black 7s

Bryce Heem stretches out to score a try in the 7-0 try drubbing of France

New Zealand were up 19-0 at the half-time break and it got out to 47-0 at the end.

Akira Ione, All Black 7s

It was nice for Akira Ione that he was able to cap off his 1st day of international 7s with a try in front of the home crowd

So it’s job done for the All Black 7s but with a loss hanging over them, they should be ready to take on Canada,. The 2 sides met in Las Vegas 2 weekends back where the Kiwis came out on top.

Canada beat Argentina 24-6 in their last game after wins over Scotland 17-14 and the USA 29-12.

Prolific try scorer Sean Duke and their key play maker for the last 2 years Nathan Hiryama are back from injury and found their feet on Day#1.

The Cup Quarter Finals are:

2:33 pm England v Samoa

2:55pm Canada v New Zealand

3:17pm Australia v South Africa

3:39 Fiji v Argentina

Related Stories

Full Day#1 Draw for Wellington with our picks

The New Zealand leg of the 2013-2014 World 7s Series begins today at 1pm at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

Here are our picks for who’s going to win the first day match-ups (winner in bold).

13:00  Canada vs  Scotland Pool C
13:21  Argentina vs  United States Pool C
13:42  Samoa vs  Kenya Pool D
14:03  Australia vs  Tonga Pool D
14:24  South Africa vs  Wales Pool A
14:45  England vs  Portugal Pool A
15:06  New Zealand vs  Fiji Pool B
15:27  France vs  Spain Pool B
15:48  Canada vs  United States Pool C
16:09  Argentina vs  Scotland Pool C
16:30  Samoa vs  Tonga Pool D
16:51  Australia vs  Kenya Pool D
17:12  South Africa vs  Portugal Pool A
17:33  England vs  Wales Pool A
17:54  New Zealand vs  Spain Pool B
18:35  France vs  Fiji Pool B
18:56  Scotland vs  United States Pool C
19:17  Kenya vs  Tonga Pool D
19:38  Wales vs  Portugal Pool A
20:28  Fiji vs  Spain Pool B
20:50  Canada vs  Argentina Pool C
21:12  Samoa vs  Australia Pool D
21:34  South Africa vs  England Pool A
21:56  New Zealand vs  France Pool B

4 changes to the NZ7s team for Wellington

Sir Gordon Tietjens has made 4 changes to the All Black 7s team that played at the USA 7s in Las Vegas.

2 of these have been forced through injury and suspension.

Incoming

  • Akira Ione comes in after visa issues kept him out of the USA 7s
  • Tomasi Cama, Ben Lam and Sherwin Stowers are back from injury

Outgoing

  • Mark Jackman and David Raikuna have been dropped
  • Waisake Naholo is injured
  • Sam Dickson is suspended

The team

Akira Ioane (Auckland)
Ambrose Curtis (Wellington)
Ben Lam (Auckland)
Bryce Heem (Tasman)
D J Forbes (Counties Manukau)
George Tilsley (Manawatu)
Gillies Kaka (Hawkes Bay)
Lote Raikabula (Wellington)
Scott Curry (Manawatu)
Sherwin Stowers (Counties Manukau)
Tim Mikkelson (Waikato)
Tomasi Cama (Manawatu)

Naholo and Raikuna won’t be playing at the Wellington 7s

Sir Gordon Tietjens has named a 14 man squad to prepare for the Wellington 7s on the 7th and 8th of February.

Waisake Naholo starred in Las Vegas scoring a hat trick in the semi-final against England but he also sustained an injury in the final and so it out.

David Raikuna was a late inclusion for Vegas, coming in when Sherwin Stowers pulled up in the final days before departure.

Despite playing in all 4 events this World Series the Fijian has made way for 3 players returning from injury. Tomasi Cama, Ben Lam and Sherwin Stowers are all back in the squad.

The only new player is Northland’s Matt Moulds. A mobile hooker in Northland’s ITM Cup team and a dynamic forward in their 7s team.

18 year old Akira Ione will be back in training after his visa issue stopped him from playing at the USA 7s last weekend.

The 12 man team for the Wellington 7s will be named on Tuesday.

Training squad
Akira Ione
Ambrose Curtis
Ben Lam
Bryce Heem
D J Forbes
George Tilsley
Gillies Kaka
Lote Raikabula
Mark Jackman
Matt Moulds
Scott Curry
Sherwin Stowers
Tim Mikkelson
Tomasi Cama