Monday, February 4, 2013

Good for the game

New Zealand has dominated the IRB's Sevens circuit since its inception. But even super-coach Gordon Tietjens concedes that his team's dominance is under threat; Stuff reports:

Kenya's brave, brave run in Wellington was no flash in the pan and New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens says fans should get used to the changing face of world sevens.
Never before have New Zealand fans seen their side pushed so hard in pool play during its home leg of the IRB World Series tournament.
The Kiwis were beaten by England and bustled by the United States in pool play, then dumped out by losing finalists Kenya 19-14 in the semifinals.
Though Tietjens' men will head to Las Vegas still 21 points clear of Kenya at the top of the series ladder, he believes the weekend's action should change people's perception of the world circuit.
"It doesn't happen that way any more and it's right around the world now," he said when asked if the days of easy passage through pool play were over. "You look at some of the teams that have battled over the weekend and you look at Fiji, the country that probably has more players in the world in sevens rugby than anyone. To go into the bowl for the first time ever, that was a shock to everyone.
"We are fortunate we haven't been in that situation yet. Touch wood it doesn't happen, but you can be pretty close. You look at our last game last night [Friday night] against the USA, it could have easily been another close loss like we had tonight [Saturday]." 

And although the decision to include Sevens in the Olympic Games from 2016 was controversial, it is having an effect; read on:

There is little doubt the inclusion of sevens in the 2016 Olympics has taken the game to another level and that the chasing field is now gathering pace on the perennial powerhouses.
New Zealand notably could not dominate the breakdown in Wellington as they have in the past, even against minnows like the US and Spain.
Full-time, contracted sevens specialists are now stronger, faster, and younger than in previous years and forwards such as D J Forbes and Lote Raikabula can no longer bully their opposites at the tackle where the crucial possession stakes are decided.
It was noticeable that New Zealand looked sharpest when youngsters Gillies Kaka, David Raikuna, Belgium Tuatagloa and Rocky Khan had the ball in their hands. 

The Rio Sevens will be a fantastic success; if this weekend's tournament in Wellington is anything to go by. Perennial heavyweights Fiji failed to make the top half of the draw, as did France, which going into the tournament was placed second to New Zealand in the IRB series. Kenya's run to the final was astounding, and they became the darlings of the crowd, even after beating New Zealand. And through the weekend, teams like Canada and Scotland upset the form book in individual matches.

Gordon Tietjens will have to re-evaluate New Zealand's tactics for Las Vegas this coming weekend, especially without DJ Forbes. But there is some terrific talent coming through the ranks. And already both Forbes and Tietjens have sent the NZRU a very pointed message; for New Zealand to remain competitive, young talent has to be contracted an d developed with NZRU support.

Overall however, the winner of the Wellington Sevens was Sevens itself. It was a fabulous tournament both on and off the field, and the IRB would be mad to even contemplate taking the tournament away from the capital. The emergence of the so-called "lesser nations" is really good for the game. 

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