Teenager 'shocked' by All Blacks Sevens call-up

BEN STRANG
Last updated 05:01 17/01/2014
Akira Ioane
Getty Images
NEW MAN: Akira Ioane, left, in action for Auckland.

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Akira Ioane is "absolutely shocked" after Gordon Tietjens selected the 18-year-old Aucklander for the All Blacks Sevens squad to play in Las Vegas next weekend.

Having only finished at Auckland Grammar last year, Ioane was one of the top performers for Auckland on their way to the national sevens final on Sunday.

Ioane joins an experienced squad for the Las Vegas tournament, which includes Waikato players Tim Mikkelson and Joe Webber.

Big, strong, with plenty of pace, Tietjens said Ioane is an exciting young player, who was taken by surprise by his selection into the team.

"He was absolutely shocked. I don't think he ever expected to be selected," Tietjens said yesterday.

"But through camp this week he has performed really well, and that goes for nationals, and the Mt Maunganui sevens the week before. He's been a constant performer for Auckland."

Ioane was selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools' squad last year, and will be making his first trip to the United States when the team leaves on Sunday.

"He is someone we want to grow as a sevens player. He has all the attributes and the skill set of a fine rugby player," Tietjens said

"He's exciting, very fast, very skilful and it will be real challenge for him, his first tournament, but I am sure he will thrive on that."

Auckland finished runners-up at the national sevens tournament in Rotorua last weekend, falling to Wellington in the final.

Wellington's Vaea Fifita was a standout for the champions during the tournament, but is not yet eligible for New Zealand.

"He came and trained with us, and he did well, but at the moment he isn't eligible to play for us. He will be soon, though."

That leaves Lote Raikabula and Ambrose Curtis from the national champions, although Curtis didn't play in Rotorua.

Key playmaker Tomasi Cama misses out on selection due to a calf injury, while injuries to Ben Lam and Declan O'Donnell also drop them out of the squad.

"[Cama] is certainly the best half back in the world in sevens and having him injured is a real concern but he will bounce back," Tietjens said.

"At the same time we are building depth and Gillies Kaka I am sure will step up to that role.

"He was the best player at Rugby World Cup in Russia and we have very capable Mark Jackman as well who can thrive in that position."

Tietjens said he is happy with the balance in the squad.

"This is a strong side with a lot of experience and that's the advantage with this squad now, I have some very experienced players who can teach the younger players."

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New Zealand is yet to win at the Las Vegas sevens, having finished second three times at the tournament.

Tietjens said his team is well prepared for the tournament, which has been brought forward this year to before the Wellington Sevens, a first for the World Series.

"In the past we've been a bit underdone coming into Wellington because of the gap between the last tournament.

"This time, with the national sevens having just been played, we're actually in pretty good shape for Las Vegas, and we'll be in better shape than normal heading into Wellington, which is great for our home tournament."

All Blacks Sevens: Scott Curry, Ambrose Curtis, Sam Dickson, DJ Forbes (c), Bryce Heem, Akira Ioane, Mark Jackman, Gillies Kaka, Tim Mikkelson, Lote Raikabula, Sherwin Stowers, Joe Webber.



- Fairfax Media

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