Tietjens talks up young sevens squad

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2013
Luke Masirewa
PHIL REID/FAIRFAX NZ
New Zealand's Luke Masirewa leaves a Portugal player in his wake during a training session at Porirua.

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Catch us if you can - Gordon Tietjens believes his latest batch of sevens talent could be one of his best.

The New Zealand sevens coach sprang his annual surprise in unveiling two rookies in his 12-man squad to defend the home leg of the world series in Wellington.

But it isn't so much the promise of Auckland play-maker Rocky Khan and Hawke's Bay wing Gillies Kaka that's got Tietjens' blood pumping.

The 2013 squad has that valuable mix of youth, experience and power that Tietjens spends his life searching for.

"I was looking at it today and thinking overall it is potentially a very, very good team," he said yesterday, before singling out Taranaki back Kurt Baker as a key man.

"It's great to have someone like Kurt Baker back - in those first three tournaments he excelled tremendously.

"He's a great player, he loves the game of sevens, he's very fit.

"Mate, if these guys play to their potential and work hard, I'm looking for a big tournament."

It's a tad unusual for Tietjens to display such confidence early in the week and particularly in Wellington, where he acknowledges the pressure gauge goes up for the home team.

Injuries to specialists Scott Curry, Mark Jackman, Toby Arnold and Milford Keresoma may also be cause for concern.

But Tietjens clearly feels his young crop are maturing and that there is enough experience to allow the x-factor players to express themselves and extend their lead at the top of the IRB World Series ladder.

He noted big Auckland wing Ben Lam and young Canterbury forward Sam Dickson as players on a rapid upward curve.

"Ben's big, strong and fast and in his first year of sevens, and he learned so much in his first two tournaments [Dubai and South Africa].

"I'd love him to fire in Wellington. I just think he's got exceptional talent and a big future in the game."

On Dickson, the third-string openside in Canterbury rugby and a huge physical specimen, Tietjens said: "His aerial skills are quite phenomenal and he's a big, hard, raw-boned player . . . he played five games at Mt Maunganui yesterday and deserves his selection.

"He pushed his way into the starting side in South Africa and was quite influential in the final, so he has real potential, a great player in the making."

The proviso on Tietjens' bullish optimism is that his side face a tough first pool A match against England, one which he said could be a banana skin.

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"It's going to be on us and when you haven't played for a few weeks with a side, that's a big challenge. It'll be no different for us going into the first game in Wellington."

To guard against that, Tietjens sent four of his key players to Tauranga on Sunday to play in a one-day tournament where they squeezed in five games.

That group included some of his most influential men in Tomasi Cama and Lote Raikabula, who will again pull the tactical strings.

And none got a break yesterday as an 18-strong New Zealand squad played Portugal in a warm-up match at Porirua Park under a sweltering sun with some fitness drills thrown in at the end for kicks.

New Zealand, who are gunning for a third straight home title, have made a strong start to the current series, reaching the final in Australia and Dubai before winning in South Africa.

New Zealand: Kurt Baker, Tomasi Cama, Sam Dickson, DJ Forbes (captain), Gillies Kaka, Rocky Khan, Ben Lam, Luke Masirewa, Tim Mikkelson, Lote Raikabula, David Raikuna, Belgium Tuatagaloa.

Contact Toby Robson
Chief rugby writer
Email: toby.robson@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @TobyRobsonNZ

- The Dominion Post

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