Treating the new venue of the New Zealand Sevens like ‘any other leg’ is the best attitude for the All Black Sevens team. Enjoy the local support, and play to the familiar conditions of course (as Australia did last weekend) but focus on the goal – the HSBC Sevens Series title
Embracing the local venue will be easy for several players. Tim Mikkelson, Regan Ware (see main picture) and Joe Webber are each locals….literally. Ware and Webber play for Bay of Plenty and Mikkelson represents Waikato. So when the captains were brought together for promotional pictures at Hobbiton in Matamata, Mikkelson felt very much at home.
"We travel all around the world playing 10 tournaments and to be able to play here in Hamilton is going to be something special" – Mikkelson
— All Blacks Sevens (@AllBlacks7s) January 31, 2018
HSBC New Zealand Sevens
Can it return to the heyday? No, but many will say that New Zealand need a well attended event. Hamilton should provide that.
While the familiarity is a comfort, the Kiwi side cannot become too comfortable. That is because in Pool C they face three other teams that all require respect.
Head coach Clark Laidlaw is excited by the challenge. After the Cape Town Sevens win, he can be both confident and aware that the task is real. With three relative goals in 2016/17, the thinking to approach this leg as ‘just like any other’ has its merits. Not to be over-excited by the local sensations. All the attention, media and civic duties. it must be controlled.
“As a player and coach you always want to play at home. We are loving being here in Hamilton, it feels familiar, the guys have been able to spend some time with family. Come Saturday, the crowd will lift us and give us an advantage and we’re going to embrace it.”
However, Laidlaw himself has used the word excited. In as much, about how the combination of players can embrace the challenge. As the All Blacks do, adsorb both the pressure and the anticipation.
New Zealand Sevens respect opposition in Pool C
“We want to win a World Series so every point you play for is crucial.”
A sub-plot has played out in the background. Youngster Etene Nanai-Seturo was presented to the Sevens rugby world in Sydney. A prospect and selected for Hamilton again, yet a contractual issue with the NRL Warriors is playing out in the background. It could see legal action taken, so fans will hope it does not distract from the teams efforts.
New Zealand team: Scott Curry, Tim Mikkelson, Teddy Stanaway, Joe Ravouvou, Luke Masirewa, Vilimoni Koroi, Sam Dickson, Caleb Clarke, Regan Ware, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Joe Webber, Sione Molia, (13th man) Kurt Baker.
Pool C – France, Argentina, Scotland and New Zealand
This is a side who have rebuilt from the 2016/17 model. One who have often seemed self-assured yet have too often under achieved. That changed in Sydney. Of course, the side wanted to be in the Cup finals draw, but like others (Samoa, Spain and Australia in the past) raising any type of trophy is the best medicine.
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) January 28, 2018
It will be interesting to see how the team transitions. In the past, they seemed content to be in the mid-pack, but after employing super-Coach Ben Ryan as a consultant, the success maybe more profound. He told CNN “Right now, they’re knocking on the door of eighth, ninth in the world. They want to be a lot higher than that. They want to be consistent.”
Both coaches, Jerome Daret and Ryan, along with senior men like Steeve Barry, will aim to retain their high placing on the standings by the end of the New Zealand Sevens weekend.
France squad: Jean Pascal Barraque, Stephen Parez, Steeve Barry, Manoel Dall’igna, Bastien Berenguel, Piere Popelin, Johan Demai-Hamecher, Thibault Mazzoleni, Paulin Riva, Tavite Veredamu, Charles Lagarde, Jean Baptiste Manevy, Sacha Valleau.
One of the highest performing sides of this season, Argentina reached the semifinals of the last two tournaments. That shows a new consistency, which the South American team had not developed. Some will assume that their next step up must be a Cup final. So could that occur in New Zealand?
The key encounter for Pool C is the hosts v Argentina. The teams will square off in the final clash on day one, and it will be pivotal. Recently, Los Pumas have been able to show a new instinct of staying calm. Beaten in clutch matches in past seasons, head coach Santiago Gómez Cora needs to build his men’s confidence to the point that they can take the step into the Cup Final.
Pumas 7s squad: Franco Sabato, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Gaston Revel, Matias Osadczuk, Felipe del Mestre, Luciano Gonzalez, Santiago Mare, Conrado Roura, Maximiliano Filizzola, Marcos Moroni, Seve Escobio, Maximo Provenzano
If you had only watched the 2017/18 Sevens Series, you wouldn’t see how well Scotland had grown as a sevens nation. Winners twice of the HSBC London Sevens, but who have so far failed to make any ‘dents in the big teams armour’. That is a difficult task, so followers of the Scots will know that it will only be a matter of time. In fact, they pushed eventual Sydney 7s winners Australia, to only just lose by 24-21.
The conditions might well suit Scotland better. Hamilton may hold some humidity, but a wet ground could allow the Scottish runners to feel comfortable. A huge factor in professional sport. That ‘winning feeling’ and if the Scots can upset either Argentina, France or even the Kiwi hosts, then head coach John Dalziel will be able to buoy his men to perform.
Scotland squad: Jack Cuthbert, Sean Kennedy, Max McFarland, Joseva Nayacavou, Gavin Lowe, Jamie Farndale, Hugh Blake, Glenn Bryce, Harvey Elms, Robbie Fergusson, Ross McCann, Alex Coombes, Scott Riddell.
Considering the teams who will collide in Pool C, the chances of New Zealand emerging unscathed are medium-high. Play smart rugby sevens, and the odds look good. Suffer injuries, display ineffective defence – like they did in the quarterfinal second half – and they may suffer the indignity of more losses.
But it will certainly be a memorable tournament. Leaving Wellington was a slow torture for fans. If they now support and are entertained by the 2018 HSBC New Zealand Sevens, then it will be a new step on the history of the game.
2017/18 HSBC Sevens Series – Standings
Each one of the Pool C sides have their goals. And aside from Scotland, after three legs they sit inside the Top 8. Critical at this stage. Time is limited, so approaching the halfway stage, a good result would boost all their chances.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) January 28, 2018
For France, they might see the Australian teams success as their time for représentation. As talented, but without the strikeforce, beside Argentina they have the same chance at the New Zealand Sevens, as the hosts or the reigning champions [South Africa].
For all the teams present, it will feel familiar – the NZ leg has been a popular stop for 18 years. But they all will be as excited as the hosts are, to be at a new venue. So while it might be just like ‘any other leg’ – in reality, this will be a leg that the winner should be proud to carry away with them.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images