NZ have plenty of Sevens firepower for Glasgow

BEN STRANG
Last updated 05:00 08/07/2014
Gordon Tietjens
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MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Gordon Tietjens naming his squad for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games yesterday.

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Gordon Tietjens has added plenty of firepower to his New Zealand sevens squad for the Commonwealth Games, without dipping too deeply into the Super Rugby pot.

Only Blues back Pita Ahki was added to Tietjens' squad from Super Rugby, while Waikato wing Declan O'Donnell also makes a return to the sevens setup.

Ahki was expected to be part of the team after being named in the initial training squad, and with his Blues team knocked out of playoff contention, he was free to make the trip to Glasgow.

However, O'Donnell's selection comes as a surprise, with the impressive wing coming back from two years of injury trouble to take his place in the squad.

O'Donnell made a name for himself at the 2011 Wellington Sevens, where he lit up the tournament for New Zealand, scoring nine tries in the tournament, including a hat-trick in the final victory against England.

Fitness permitting, and Tietjens isn't one to select half-fit players, O'Donnell could be one to watch in Glasgow.

"Declan has come back from two shoulder operations and he was simply outstanding a few years ago," Tietjens said.

"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."

Tietjens said the lack of Super Rugby influence on the squad was down to the depth in his sevens setup, and the difficulty with the way the Super Rugby playoff race is shaping up.

"I think the timing just wasn't great [with Super Rugby], and when you think about it, the conference was so close and there wouldn't be any coaches prepared to release players."

Only Pita Ahki and Kurt Baker of the Highlanders were made available from Super Rugby but Baker tore a hamstring in training last month.

Ahki has plenty of sevens experience, having played in the Sevens World Cup last year in Russia, and will add to what is an exciting squad.

"It's always tough when you're naming a team for Comm Games," Tietjens said.

"There's a lot of excitement for the players, and for some particularly going there for the very first time, but I think I've picked a very strong squad and a lot of that squad is based on a very good world sevens series this year."

New Zealand is unbeaten at the Commonwealth Games, winning gold in each of the four tournaments since 1998.

They will be hoping to extend that record to five straight gold medals in Glasgow, although competition will be tougher than ever.

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South Africa pushed New Zealand throughout the 2013-14 IRB Sevens World Series, and have bolstered their squad by introducing Springbok legend Bryan Habana to the fold.

New Zealand also face the toughest pool in Glasgow, up against Canada and hosts Scotland, as well as minnows Barbados.

With teams focused on the Rio Olympics in 2016, sides such as Scotland and Canada have made huge strides in the past two years.

New Zealand Sevens team: DJ Forbes (C), Ben Lam, Scott Curry, Tim Mikkleson, Gillies Kaka, Akira Ioane, Pita Ahki, Declan O,Donnell, Sam Dickson, Bryce Heem, Sherwin Stowers, Joe Webber.

- Waikato Times

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