Physical play expected at Las Vegas sevens

BEN STRANG
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2014
Tim Mikkelson
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WANTING A WIN: Tim Mikkelson and the New Zealand Sevens team are chasing their first victory in Las Vegas.

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Fans can expect smash-mouth sevens in Las Vegas this weekend, with a lot more physical play than in most World Series tournaments.

The New Zealand Sevens team has been getting acclimatised to conditions in Las Vegas since landing on Sunday night.

Star player Tim Mikkelson said the heat and sunshine hasn't been too bad so far, but the size of the fields is taking some getting used to.

New Zealand took on Portugal in a training match yesterday, with coach Gordon Tietjens testing several new combinations during the encounter.

"The field's a lot smaller over here than a normal field, so we're just getting used to running the plays and things like that with less space.

"They've brought in the field by about seven metres on each side. I think you'll see a lot more contact than in normal sevens games, so it will be more physical, but it won't change things too much."

New Zealand have had a tough time traditionally at the Las Vegas tournament, having never taken out the title.

This year they have been drawn in the pool of death, alongside Fiji, Australia and Scotland, and will face a tough battle to get out of the pool, let alone push for a winners medal.

"We've made the final three times, and tripped up in the finals, so it's definitely one we're targeting to win," Mikkelson said.

"Especially with Wellington coming up next weekend, we want to win this one and take that momentum into our home tournament.

"It's a pretty tough group, but sevens is pretty competitive these days. When you go to these tournaments, there's always one or two teams that get knocked out early.

"We've got Australia and Scotland on the first day, and then Fiji the day after, so we're not taking anything for granted."

Injuries have played their part in New Zealand's build up this week, with Joe Webber and Sherwin Stowers having to pull out, meaning David Raikuna and Waisake Naholo have been brought in.

Auckland 18-year-old Akira Ioane also had to pull out, unable to sort travel documents before the team left New Zealand, and was replaced by George Tilsley.

The team will also be without talisman Tomasi Cama, out with a calf injury, however Gillies Kaka is expected to fill the playmaker role in Las Vegas.

Mikkelson said the squad has had some time to bond away from the rugby field, including a spot of shopping yesterday, although there will be no gambling in Las Vegas' famous casinos.

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"We went shopping, but we try to stay out of the casinos. A lot of people smoke in there, and Titch doesn't want us around there, but we got the shopping in which was pretty good."

New Zealand's first match against Australia kicks off at 1.44pm NZ time tomorrow, followed by a 4.40pm match against Scotland.

The tournament continues on Sunday with the final pool match and quarterfinals, with semifinals and finals on Monday.

- Fairfax Media

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