All Blacks keen as bosses debate sevens issue

TOBY ROBSON AND LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 31/07/2014
Conrad Smith
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ANOTHER BIG DREAM: Conrad Smith thinks many All Blacks would love the chance to compete at an Olympic Games.

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New Zealand rugby bosses continue to debate who and how many top tier fifteens players should be made available for a tilt at Olympic sevens glory, but All Blacks centre Conrad Smith has indicated most players are crystal clear on the issue.

"There's obviously certain forwards that don't give it much thought, but for the last year or so certainly some of the backs and some of the guys that have been involved before talk about how they'd love to be involved and why not?" he said yesterday. "It's a pretty unique opportunity to get an Olympic gold. That would be something most guys would jump at."

It has become clear the New Zealand Rugby Union and the All Blacks management want to help the sevens team secure a gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but are still debating exactly how to do so.

All Blacks backs coach Ian Foster said it would be a matter of striking a balance between helping the sevens Olympic campaign and not adversely effecting the national fifteens team.

"Those who want to play sevens are going to have to play a fairly significant amount of time. It's a matter of looking at the individual cases and how that works. It will be case by case. The next six months will be about sorting that strategy out."

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew has confirmed a number of top tier Super Rugby players and All Blacks would prioritise sevens in 2016.

However, he said there was plenty of debate around exactly how that process would be handled and hinted the failure to win gold in Glasgow would be factored into discussions.

"We've said we will pick the best team possible to go win a gold medal in Rio, but the debate is what makes that team up?" Tew told Radio Sport. "Is it a lot of players who have been only involved in sevens for a long period of time? Or is it a mix of players who have played both versions of the game?

"In the end it is going to come down to how many and for how long? My sense is we will have some fifteens players who could make a very valuable contribution and transition in a relatively short period of time and others who would need longer."

New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens revealed after his side's 17-12 loss to South Africa in the Commonwealth Games final, that he had sent letters to a number of current All Blacks asking them to forgo test and Super Rugby commitments in 2016.

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"It's how many players would make that call, how many we think would need to, and how long they have to make the commitment to transition," Tew said.

"Depending who you talk to there is a variety of views on those subjects, which is not surprising because it's not an exact science. We are having a healthy debate."

Tietjens wants Olympic contenders to play at least four to six IRB World Series sevens tournaments in 2016 and Tew confirmed some players had already had the option of being released to play sevens written into their NZRU contracts.

A switch to sevens may affect other players' salaries should they decide to forgo their test and Super Rugby duties.

"That's one of the things that needs to be taken into account. We haven't drawn a final line on that, but it's fair to say that if there were a small number of players who we thought were critical then we'd have to look after them financially."

The New Zealand squad in Glasgow included just one Super Rugby player, Blues utility back Pita Ahki, who was injured early in the tournament.

In Delhi four years ago Tietjens utilised the services of Ben Smith, Liam Messam, Hosaea Gear and Kurt Baker on the way to winning a third straight gold medal.

But Tew also cautioned against the view that not winning gold in Glasgow was proof the Olympic team needed to be stacked with first string All Blacks.

"One loss in 31 games at the Commonwealth Games doesn't mean the panic balloon needs to go up."

- Stuff

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