Former New Zealand rep Warwick Lahmert will lead Taranaki's defence of their national sevens crown after a 17-strong squad was announced yesterday.
While the squad will be culled to 12 for next week's central regions qualifying tournament in Palmerston North, as well as the nationals in Rotorua in January, Lahmert has been given the captaincy through the campaign, which will also include the Mt Maunganui tournament.
"Tactically he knows the game as well as anyone in the country," Taranaki coach Willie Rickards said.
"In terms of what a coach needs, I know I've got someone who is going to make smart decisions out on the field. He is also respected by players and management, not just here in Taranaki, but throughout the country."
Lahmert takes over the role from Heiden Bedwell-Curtis after his move to Manawatu.
Rickards reduced his squad from 28 following last weekend's warmup tournament in Dannevirke, which also included teams from Hawke's Bay and Manawatu.
"The big outcome from that [tournament] was the development of some players, which is a big core focus for us, while it also gave me the opportunity to look at guys playing against provincial players and that was a real bonus," Rickards said.
"Some guys performed really, really well, while it probably showed up a few boys who are just not at that level at the moment."
Rickards was also pleased he could find a couple of "gold nuggets" in the group who will now push on for a spot in the final 12.
Included was young Eltham-Kaponga player Jesse Parete, who Rickards rated as one of the best under-20 players he has seen.
The former Melbourne Storm recruit was part of the Taranaki under-20 squad this season, playing mostly at second five-eighth. Rickards sees him as a forward in his sevens make-up, however.
The only downside to last weekend's tournament was a minor injury to Lahmert's knee, while Liam McBride did some damage to the ligaments around his thumb. Neither injury was expected to keep either player out of the game for too long.
Of those who missed out from the 28-man training squad, New Plymouth Old Boys' Ross Allan would have been included had he been available in January, while Seta Taminavalu is also unavailable.
On the flip side, New Zealand sevens contracted player Waisake Naholo will be available for next week's qualifying tournament and possibly the nationals.
"If you look at the squad, it's a very big squad and that reflects the way we want to play around the contact, while we want height at kickoffs," Rickards said.
"We are very good defenders, as well. We don't look like a traditional sevens team but I think that's how the game is going and how we want to play it."
TARANAKI SEVENS (squad): Warwick Lahmert (captain), Lewis Ormond, Jackson Ormond, Daniel Brooks, Jon Smyth, Iopu Iopu, Toa Halafihi, Waisake Naholo, Liam McBride, Lachlan Boshier, Hamish Alabaster, Adam Laititi, Codey Rei, Nemia Soqeta, Beaudein Waaka, Avon Lewis, Rick McKenna, Jesse Parete.
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