NZ Games sevens team short of Super-men

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2014
Waikato Times

The All Black sevens team have a unbeaten Commonwealth Games record and the team heading to Glasgow plan to sustain the legacy.

Pita Ahki
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STAR POWER: Blues' midfielder Pita Ahki is the biggest name in New Zealand's 12-man Commonwealth Games squad.

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Timing is everything but, for the New Zealand sevens team, it has been slightly off as they chase a fabulous five in Glasgow.

The seemingly never-ending Super Rugby competition denied coach Gordon Tietjens of any star power he may have hoped for, with the Blues' midfielder Pita Ahki the 12-man Commonwealth Games squad's biggest name.

And, as the team gathered in the Netherlands this week for a training camp, one of their fliers, Sherwin Stowers, remained in Auckland with his wife, hoping his baby son would show some of his dad's speed in entering the world.

He is booked to fly out today, meaning he'll likely miss a shot at his second gold medal and hand a reprieve to either Tomasi Cama or Lote Raikabula if Stowers junior hasn't shown his face overnight.

Still, New Zealand remain the favourites at football stronghold Ibrox Stadium, on July 26-27, with skipper DJ Forbes and Tim Mikkelson the only other returnees from the Delhi gold medal-winning side of 2010.

Along with Valerie Adams and possibly fellow shot putter Tom Walsh, Forbes and Tietjens' merry men remain one of the better New Zealand gold-medal bankers.

Star power helped do the job for New Zealand back in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, when two of the greatest All Blacks Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen were part of the inaugural gold-winning side.

Four years ago in the Delhi heat, All Blacks Hosea Gear, Ben Smith and Zac Guildford were whistled in but didn't have a massive impact, and it was Tietjens' regular soldiers who had the biggest say in their fourth successive gold medal in a thrilling 24-17 final against Australia.

New Zealand won five of the nine tournaments in 2013-14 to clinch another world title, with a treble of victories in Hong Kong, Scotland and England.

Despite a lack of big names, Tietjens could afford to be ruthless in his selections, omitting former key men Cama and Raikabula after interrupted seasons, as well as Crusader Adam Whitelock and Wellington's Ambrose Curtis.

He recalled speedster Declan O'Donnell, while big forward Scott Curry and youngster Akira Ioane are two key men.

Britain's Press Association liked the look of Hawke's Bay speedster Gillies Kaka, naming the try-scoring machine in its "10 overseas stars to watch" list for Glasgow, alongside track stars Usain Bolt and David Rudisha.

Fiji's absence, resulting from the country's ban when the sevens draw was done (it has since been readmitted), takes away some lustre from the competition and removes a big hurdle for New Zealand.

There's also minimal star power among their three biggest rivals, with South Africa, Australia and England sticking largely with the specialists who served them well in this year's world series.

South Africa suffered a blow, with South African Press Association reporting yesterday that game-turning wing Bryan Habana was denied a release by his Toulon club to play in Glasgow.

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Fellow Springbok Schalk Brits was also refused permission by his Saracens club.

Australia selected Wallabies flanker Liam Gill and fellow loose forward Sean McMahon, of the Melbourne Rebels, which gives them some starch alongside nine Games first-timers.

They're under a new coach, with Welsh-born Geraint John taking over from Michael O'Connor.

England have a Kiwi connection with 35-year-old Mark Bright, the Nelson-born loose forward who played 52 games for the Tasman Makos from 2006-11.

He now plies his trade with London Scottish and qualified for England on residency grounds after spending three years at the club.

- The Dominion Post

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