NZ sevens team named for Comm Games
New Zealand today named the sevens team it hopes will bring home a fifth successive Commonwealth Games gold medal from Glasgow later this month.
The 12-strong squad features three players who won gold in Delhi four years ago - captain DJ Forbes, Sherwin Stowers and Tim Mikkelson, as well as World Cup winner Pita Ahki and Declan O'Donnell.
Blues back Ahki is the only Super Rugby player named in the 12-man squad, while Waikato's O'Donnell is a surprise selection.
O'Donnell has struggled with injury over the past few seasons but when healthy can bring undoubted X-factor to the New Zealand side.
Two additional players will be named as reserves at the end of this week's training in Mt Maunganui and will travel with the team to the Netherlands for a pre-Games training camp on July 14. They will return home if not required.
New Zealand will play Canada, Scotland and minnows Barbados in pool play at the tournament, which kicks off on July 26 at Ibrox Stadium, home of Rangers football club.
Coach Gordon Tietjens said the team reflects the strength of the sevens programme at present, with only one Super Rugby player named in the team.
That also came down to the tight nature of the Super Rugby competition this year, with the Blues the only team with no hope of playoff rugby.
"It's a strong squad and the majority of the players played in the World Series and played exceptionally well. Pita Ahki is a very good sevens player and excelled for the Blues this year and performed very well in the recent trials," Tietjens said.
''Declan has come back from two shoulder operations and he was simply outstanding a few years ago. He has come back and trained very hard and is very fit. He has those x factors; good feet, good acceleration, is big and strong and gives me great cover out wide.
"There is some experience there in a team which will be well led by DJ Forbes. You need those players and among them there are new younger players at their Commonwealth Games who will feel the pressure and it is different pressure at a Games.
"To win, it's all about consistency. It's being accurate when you need to be, strong defense and dominating possession. If we can play consistently well, and having a strong bench will help, then that plays a big hand in being successful.
"Winning a gold medal at a Commonwealth Games is very special. There is nothing better than seeing a player being presented with a gold medal and listening to the anthem. I am confident if these guys can perform to the best of their ability and be on top of their game we can go very well."
New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith said the team's title defence would be a "momentous occasion".
"It will take place at the historic Ibrox Stadium, home of the famous Rangers [football] club and, taking place the first weekend of the Games, will have Kiwis hooked," he said.
"We welcome the players to the team and look forward to seeing them take on the best in the world at Glasgow."
Meanwhile, Liam Gill has been selected to spearhead Australia's 12-man rugby sevens squad in Glasgow.
Wallaby Gill and fellow Super Rugby star Sean McMahon joined the Australian setup last week. Ed Jenkins will captain the team, hoping to go one better having won a silver medal at the last Commonwealth Games.
Welsh-born coach Geraint John will take charge of the squad after finishing up his previous post with Canada.
Australia face England, Sri Lanka and Uganda in Group D pool play.
South Africa have bolstered their squad by introducing Springbok legend Bryan Habana to the fold, and are expected to push New Zealand hard in Glasgow after a strong showing in the 2013-14 IRB Sevens World Series.
AT A GLANCE
New Zealand sevens squad: Pita Ahki (North Harbour), Scott Curry (Manawatu), Sam Dickson (Canterbury), DJ Forbes, captain (Counties Manukau), Bryce Heem (Tasman), Akira Ioane (Auckland), Gillies Kaka (Hawke's Bay), Ben Lam (Auckland), Tim Mikkelson (Waikato), Declan O'Donnell (Waikato), Sherwin Stowers (Counties Manukau), Joe Webber (Waikato)