Manawatu sevens coach Paul Claridge overcame a potential nightmare situation this week before the national tournament in Queenstown tomorrow.
Already without New Zealand sevens whizz Junior Tomasi Cama, playmaker and captain Karl Bryson went through an injury scare during the week, giving Claridge his own scare.
Just when Claridge thought he was close to a full-strength team, Bryson, Claridge's "little general", tweaked his hamstring at training and was in danger of missing the two-day tournament.
Bryson passed a fitness test last night but not before causing Claridge's heart to skip a few beats during the week.
They will have to be careful with his workload, but Claridge wanted to take him because of his experience and knowledge of the game.
"The trouble is, the whole tournament we're going to have to be looking after him. He's normally a 14-minutes-a-game, three-games-a-day player."
Bryson was not far away from 100 per cent, but the tournament was another day away so he should have improved even further by then.
"One thing that's good about Karl is he and I enjoy a strong relationship," Claridge said.
"He wouldn't pull the wool over my eyes. He'll tell me if he's not 100 per cent. He's lucky when it went he stopped straight away and had physio start on it."
Cama is unavailable because national coach Gordon Tietjens wanted him rested.
There are a few other options to fill Bryson's boots. Young Jamie Booth has shown he can do the job and Lloyd Carter can cover most places in the backs.
Adrian and Shaun Curry have to take up leadership roles in the forwards, with a lot of the team's sevens experience limited.
Turbos fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder did well at the provincial sevens last week, while youngsters Jade Te Rure and Willie Paia'aua have looked good.
Manawatu have Northland, Southland and Waikato in pool C and are likely to play Counties-Manukau or Canterbury if they top the pool, but if they come second, they might play Otago.
There is no easy path if they want to go all the way but Claridge was confident they would make the top eight.
"Our fitness and speed should allow them to run across the paddock and open up the space out wide," Claridge said.
"In this game you can't be over-confident; if you don't get the ball it's a long game.
"That's what happened to us against Hawke's Bay in the regional finals, that's what we did to Hawke's Bay at the Mount [Maunganui]," Claridge said.
He believed some teams would have have bigger, more robust forward packs but hoped their fitness would see them through as they should beat teams to the breakdown.
Manawatu's first game is against Southland at 11.10am tomorrow.
Manawatu: Adrian Curry, Shaun Curry, Craig Clare, Jason Temara, Owen Karati, Karl Bryson, Jamie Booth, Jade Te Rure, Lloyd Carter, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Willie Paia'aua, George Tilsley.
- Manawatu Standard
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