Magic man Gordon Tietjens looks for a rabbit

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 02/02/2014
Akira Ioane
Getty Images
THE RABBIT: Akira Ioane of Auckland Grammar is tackled during the Secondary School 1st XV Final in 2012.

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New Zealand's sevens opponents must collectively hold their breath when Gordon Tietjens reaches into his hat in search of a rabbit.

And so to Wellington where an Auckland teenager named Akira Ioane is likely to be introduced to the world of international sevens.

The fifth round of the IRB world series has taken on extra importance for Tietjens' men after their 14-7 final loss to new tournament leaders South Africa in Las Vegas.

Ioane, 18, a No 8 fresh out of Auckland Grammar, would have been in America but for a late visa application that's seen him cool his heels for the past fortnight.

Tietjens won't name his final 12 until Tuesday, but he acknowledges he 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.

"I was very impressed with him yesterday in testing in Auckland. He's quick and skilful and is a very fine touch player.

"Once he understands the requirements of international sevens I think he could be a very good international player.

"He's a big boy and he's still only just getting in the gym."

Tietjens remains 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 new 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."

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 England, adding his name to a list of players including Victor Vito, Roy Kinikinilau and Ardie Savea to have burst onto the national scene in the capital.

But last year the needle slid off the record as the home crowd was left shocked by New Zealand's semifinal exit at the hands of Kenya.

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Earlier they'd been beaten in pool play by England as Tietjens' pre-tournament comments about the closing gap in global sevens rang true.

New Zealand went on to claim yet another series title, but have their hands full this year with South Africa in particular proving a thorn in their side.

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 if Ioane can stamp his mark Tietjens might just produce another rabbit.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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