China sevens players arrive in Taranaki
The first group of sevens players from China have arrived in Taranaki ahead of their month-long training camp.
Sixteen of the country's best female players have been accompanied by 15 men's players and a 10-strong management team, including doctors, chefs and coaches.
Taranaki Rugby spent 18 months brokering the deal before it was signed off earlier this year. A Taranaki Rugby delegation, including head coach Colin Cooper, went to China last year to help seal the deal.
Unions in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa were keen to sign up to the deal with the Beijing technical sports college, believed to be worth a low-end six-figure sum.
"This, for us, is an absolutely exciting opportunity to help develop their young talent," Taranaki Rugby chief executive Neil Pennington said.
"It's a huge opportunity for us to utilise the expertise which we have invested heavily in to do exactly this - coach and train top athletes. The opportunity this creates for us means we can reinvest back into Taranaki rugby and can also really push our high performance area for our people."
Rugby development manager Jono Phillips will be in charge of the group's itinerary which includes specialist coaching from Cooper, former national sevens skills coach Clark Laidlaw, head trainer Ian Cleland and Taranaki sevens coaches Willie Rickards and Ben Souness.
The Chinese are being housed at Witt's Te Henui Lodge.
Interpreters will be used throughout the group's visit, which will include two training sessions a day.
"The training will be around weights, conditioning, skills and games and it will allow us to analyse things," Phillips said.
‘There will be a massive focus on recovery and the nutritional side of recovery. Rugby wise, it will be pretty intensive."
The two men said the Chinese were desperate to upskill as they chase Olympic medals at Rio in 2016.
"They're skilful, it's not as if they are coming here as novices," Phillips said. "I would presume some of these athletes have not got to the level in their chosen sports originally and they are now having a crack at going for gold through rugby sevens."
Pennington denied Taranaki Rugby only got involved in the project for money.
"It's definitely not about that," he said. "We have invested in the best people we can and the rugby season in New Zealand only goes for a few months at a high performance level, so for us, it's about our guys having the time available to actually do it."