Blues prospect Ahki confident in sevens switch
These are exciting and challenging times for rookie Blues midfielder Pita Ahki who's about to jump out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire.
Last week the 21-year-old North Harbour centre made just his second start of the Super Rugby season in a bruising 29-23 defeat to the table-topping Sharks in Albany, and will continue his midfield role in Saturday's pivotal visit by the Hurricanes to Eden Park.
It's must-win time for Ahki's struggling Blues who have to go four-from-four over the tail-end of Super Rugby to have any chance of sneaking into a playoff spot.
Next week, during the Super Rugby hiatus, he heads into sevens camp with Gordon Tietjens' squad preparing for a shot at a fifth straight Commonwealth Games gold medal.
That's some challenge, going from the grind of Super Rugby at the business end of the competition into the gut-busting fitness requirements of Tietjens' notorious sevens camps.
But it's one the exciting Blues back is looking forward to taking on as he looks to juggle a debut Super Rugby campaign with a tilt at sevens gold in Glasgow.
Ahki is one of three Super Rugby-contracted players Tietjens has called up for his four-day camp in Mount Maunganui, alongside the Highlanders' Kurt Baker and the Crusaders' Adam Whitelock who played in the final two legs of the IRB series again won by the New Zealanders.
Tietjens needs to take a closer look at the fitness and readiness of Ahki and Baker, who were both part of his World Cup-winning squad last year, and their availability will then be determined by their Super Rugby teams should their services be required.
"Pita is totally committed to us," Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said. "It's like the All Blacks and under-20s situation, and I think it's really positive for him. He'll go to camp, then we'll make a decision later on whether he can go to the Games or not."
Ahki is taking the exacting switch one step at a time. He'd love the opportunity to continue New Zealand's perfect Games record - they haven't lost since the sport was introduced in 1998 - but he understands it's going to be a tricky conversion.
"Titch is worried about us making the transition, and he's all worried about the beep [test], so I'll have that to look forward to next Tuesday," said Ahki of the notorious fitness test.
After playing two IRB series tournaments and the World Cup last year, Ahki backs himself to make the switch back in style.
"There will be a few trial games going on, so I've got to show my fitness is up to scratch, and I guess try carve it up on the field."
Clearly the Olympics in 2016 is very much on the Ahki radar, but he smiles at the mention of the sport's debut in Rio: "It's on the radar of quite a few players in New Zealand rugby and maybe some in league as well. It's kinda just sitting there at the moment."
Meantime Ahki is excited to get a chance to back up on an experience against the Sharks he found as invigorating as it was exacting.
"We were pretty gutted -- we could have won the game but we let ourselves down. You can't afford to make mistakes at this level, especially discipline wise.
"I'll try to take another step up from last Friday and do my job well and help the team where I can. We've got four games left now and we've got to win every one."