Rio's a whole new ballgame for Kiwi tactics

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 27/01/2013

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Some of New Zealand's elite rugby players have some big decisions to make as sevens continues its transition from gimmicky sideshow to main event at the Rio Olympics.

It's certainly a changing landscape the sport is going through, even if next weekend's Wellington leg of the IRB series will still be as much about the festivity and frivolity in the stands as it will be about the run-and-gun on the field.

In case you haven't been paying attention, sevens joins the Games programme as a full medal sport in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. That means, for the first time, New Zealand's leading rugby players - men and women - will get the chance to play for an Olympic gold.

Translation: it's a whole new ball game, and the stakes are through the roof. A stand-alone million-dollar tournament being held in Los Angeles in July is further evidence of that.

New Zealand's sevens coaching guru, Gordon Tietjens, understands the transition. He's seeing huge money, resources and priorities being pumped into programmes all round the world, and he's also suddenly aware that he has something a lot of people want - an incredible well of knowledge about the abbreviated form of rugby. "In the past, but more so now, we're getting a lot of requests from people saying can we come to your trainings and have a look," he said. "We restrict that now and we have to. We're looking at new methods and systems to make us better sevens players."

Sevens suddenly has a lot of countries' attention. China is pouring huge resources in, as are the Netherlands. In the UK and Europe there's a realisation that it's time to take this game seriously and even in South America they're tapping into Kiwi coaching via an association with the Canterbury union.

New Zealand Rugby Union high performance manager Don Tricker says losing intellectual property offshore is a fact of life and remains an "ongoing battle" for this country, both in XVs and now sevens.

People like Dallas Seymour, Eric Rush and Karl TeNana, who have vast sevens knowledge, are now highly sought after.

The NZRU has added sevens to its resource coaching programme and is also spearheading a serious push into schools.

Tietjens' contracted squad now numbers 20 and by year end he'll have a group solely contracted to sevens. That's big, he says, as he forms a nucleus around which to build his programme heading towards Rio.

This year the World Cup is the big focus, and Tietjens confirmed he'll have the ability to pluck one player out of each Super Rugby franchise for the June 28-30 tournament.

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