Singapore Rugby Sevens 2016

Rugby: Tired All Blacks still tough to beat

The captains of the 16 competing teams posing with the Singapore Sevens trophy. Fiji lead the standings, followed closely by New Zealand and South Africa, with Australia fourth.
The captains of the 16 competing teams posing with the Singapore Sevens trophy. Fiji lead the standings, followed closely by New Zealand and South Africa, with Australia fourth.PHOTO: WORLD RUGBY

They're missing five key men after HK leg but younger ones ready to step up this weekend

Injuries may have robbed New Zealand of vital experience but the weary and wounded All Blacks Sevens side are still an intimidating beast to face at the Singapore Sevens.

The 12-man playing squad will be without captain Tim Mikkelson (ankle), Pita Ahki (shoulder), Sam Dickson (leg), Lewis Ormond (foot) while former skipper D.J. Forbes has been rested after last week's gruelling outing in Hong Kong that saw Fiji dominate a lethargic All Blacks in the final.

In their place have come the largely untested trio of Antonio Kiri Kiri, Josh van Leishout and Isaac Te Aute.

But expectations for the 12-time HSBC World Rugby Seven Series winners remains the same, said fullback Kurt Baker on the sidelines of a coaching clinic yesterday with 30 rugby players from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).

 

The one-hour session was organised by team sponsors AIG and Air New Zealand.

With a team-leading 17 tries scored, the 27-year-old has been one of the top performers for the All Blacks, who are second in the standings on 123 points and five behind defending champions Fiji.

He added: "As a group we're pretty confident whoever comes in will do the job.

"The biggest thing we'll miss though is the leadership. Being older guys, they have the experience in tough situations and you can't really replace that overnight.

"But it's also a good reason for the rest of us to step up and help out the younger lads."

It was no surprise to see coach Gordon Tietjens name veteran flanker and rugby union World Cup winner Liam Messam as his captain for this weekend.

The 32-year-old won sevens gold at the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games and will be an invaluable presence in a tricky Pool B that includes France, Canada and the United States, who claimed four shock wins over the Southern Hemisphere giants in the Dubai and Cape Town stops last December.

The Americans, with National Football League star and Super Bowl winner Nate Ebner in their ranks and set to make his debut, will be looking for another major scalp.

Regardless of what happens at the National Stadium, it will be a weekend to remember for Te Aute, who turns 20 in August.

The half-back should get his first international cap and was thrilled at the prospect of donning the famous shirt.

"Just awesome," he grinned. "I'm over the moon to get the call-up. Really excited to know that I'm going to put on the black jersey and running out and be part of the boys."

It comes with a responsibility though, said winger Gillies Kaka, whose 97 points is the second highest in the squad. "We've lost some experienced guys but it gives the new boys a good opportunity to come here and get a game. They have to step up and show they deserve this chance."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'Tired All Blacks still tough to beat'. Print Edition | Subscribe