Relief for NZ with World Series back on track

UNSTOPPABLE: DJ Forbes has been inspirational in leading New Zealand to the IRB Sevens World Series summit.
UNSTOPPABLE: DJ Forbes has been inspirational in leading New Zealand to the IRB Sevens World Series summit.

DJ Forbes' main emotion was relief after lifting the Hong Kong Sevens trophy on Sunday night.

Having fallen behind South Africa in the IRB Sevens World Series standings in Tokyo the week before, the New Zealand Sevens team were under pressure to perform in Hong Kong.

That's never easy when teams bolster their squads for Hong Kong, which is still the premier event on the World Series calendar each year.

Despite faltering in the semifinals and third-fourth playoff in Tokyo, that helped galvanise the New Zealand team for Hong Kong, where they went through unbeaten.

"Just to get the World Series back on track was the main goal, and obviously to get the win in Hong Kong is a huge bonus," the New Zealand captain said.

"Hong Kong is such a prestigious event, so to go through and get the title, perhaps with a young group of boys of which people probably had their doubts, it's a great feeling."

Big names such as Tomasi Cama (injured) and Lote Raikabula (form) were left at home for the Asian legs of the World Series, meaning New Zealand were lacking the experience they usually boast.

They still had big names such as Tim Mikkelson, Sherwin Stowers and Ben Lam steering the ship, and of course their incredible captain Forbes.

He was named in the team of the tournament in Tokyo, and was player of the tournament in Hong Kong, with his sheer will leading the team to success.

The captain became New Zealand's leading tournament appearance maker in Hong Kong, playing his 64th World Series tournament, ahead of Raikabula on 63.

He also moved to third on the all-time list, behind Samoa's Uale Mai, 79, and England's Ben Gollings on 70.

Forbes said it's good to still make an impact in what he calls a "young man's game", and quite an impact it is.

"Just being captain I put a lot of pressure on myself to warrant my selections, and I guess it's good to show everyone the reason why I'm there," Forbes said. "I think the beauty about the last couple of tournaments is that it shows there is still a place for us genuine forwards in the game of sevens.

"There are a lot of fast, high scoring tries, but there's still a place for all the hard graft stuff that nobody sees.

"I'm just happy. I'm an old fella playing a young man's game, but I've found my niche and I'll keep playing until I get that tap on the shoulder."

Forbes is without doubt the best leader on the planet between the lines of a sevens pitch, and has helped enforce the system which makes NZ so good.

Auckland teenager Akira Ioane broke into the starting team for the finals matches in Hong Kong, with Tietjens preferring his youth and athleticism to experience.

Ioane is still learning the game, but Forbes said young players are able to come in because there is a good system in place.

"If you look at some of the household names we left at home, it's a tough team to make.

"I think everyone knows numbers one to 20 trying to make our team, but we've always tried to make this a star team, rather than a team with star players.

"That's why these guys can come into the environment and do a job. Akira is still learning a lot, but his improvement since Wellington has been huge, and he'll continue getting better and better."

The players will return to New Zealand this week, and will regroup later in the month before the final two tournaments of the 2013-14 World Series in Scotland and England in May.

New Zealand lead the World Series with 136 points, ahead of South Africa on 129 in second place.

Fairfax Media