New Zealand's sevens opponents would do well to hold their breaths when Sir Gordon Tietjens reaches into his hat in search of a rabbit.
The fifth round of the IRB world series in Wellington has taken on extra importance for Tietjens' men after their 14-7 final loss to new tournament leaders South Africa in Las Vegas. It's likely then Auckland teenager named Akira Ioane will make his international debut. Ioane, 18, a No 8 fresh out of Auckland Grammar, would have been in America but for a late visa application.
Tietjens won't name his final 12 until Tuesday but has a history of playing a trump card in Wellington.
"The good thing about Wellington is we have over the years unleashed a few new players," the New Zealand coach said this week. "Akira is a wonderful talent. He's never been at the fitness levels he's at right now. He's very fit and he's made huge strides in a short amount of time."
Tietjens is acutely aware of the need to bring new talent through, particularly with the Commonwealth Games and Olympics looming.
"The world series is very important but I'd be silly if I didn't. We might take a few hits this year to introduce some players who are new to All Black sevens.
"If you don't' take those opportunities and you get a few injuries then you are forced into a difficult place when these crucial tournaments roll around.
"So, pre-Commonwealth Games, if I see an opportunities for young players and they have the right core group of players around them then I will bring them on."
There is no doubt New Zealand are desperate to reassert themselves at Westpac Stadium where they have enjoyed some memorable victories.
In 2012 it was a triple threat of Frank Halai, Charles Piutau and Hosea Gear who tore opponents to shreds as New Zealand beat Fiji 24-7 in the final.
In 2011 Declan O'Donnell sparkled with a hat-trick of tries in a 29-14 win over EnglandBut last year the needle slid off the record as the home crowd was left shocked and disappointed by New Zealand's semifinal exit at the hands of Kenya.
Tietjens has done his usual analysis of why his side didn't win in Vegas and is upbeat about a week that threw up a multitude of challenges. That included the late withdrawal of original selections Ioane, Joe Webber and Sherwin Stowers, the absence of playmaker Tomasi Cama and two in-tournament suspensions.
The likely return of Ben Lam, Cama and Stowers boosts New Zealand and in Ioane, Tietjens might just have his rabbit.
- Sunday Star Times
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