SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Sonny Bill Williams continued his Rugby Sevens education in Sydney on Saturday. But brothers Akira and Rieko Ioane showed that New Zealand already have plenty of star quality without the dual code international.
Williams, who scored a try with his first touch in a sevens match in Wellington last week, produced a trademark offload for a score and went on a couple of bulldozing runs as the All Blacks made a solid start to the inaugural Sydney Sevens.
Victories over Canada and Portugal, as well as a last-gasp draw with hosts Australia, put the world champions into Sunday's quarter-finals at the stadium where Williams once strutted his stuff in the colours of rugby league's Sydney Roosters.
"It's great to be back on my old stomping ground and I'm just grateful to be in such a great side," said Williams, twice a World Cup winner with the 15-man All Blacks side. "I've shed a few kilos and I'm still learning the ropes but I'm loving the game of sevens at the moment."
New Zealand captain Tim Mikkelson has been impressed.
"He's going good," he told Reuters. "His first time ever last week and he went well. He goes well at training, he's asking a lot of questions.
"He's getting better and better and he's enjoying being part of the team and learning something new.
"Sevens isn't a game he's played before, so he's learning something every time he plays."
It was the Ioane brothers who most caught the eye for the All Blacks on day one of the fourth round of the 10-stop series, however.
Akira, 20, was player of the tournament in Wellington last weekend and his tackle-busting power brought him two tries in the three matches on Saturday, while pacey 18-year-old Rieko grabbed three.
Rieko almost set his brother up for a third with a brilliant run against Australia but his final pass went forward. "You just saw what they did last week and a little glimpse of it today," Mikkelson added.
"They're both big boys with good feet and they're extremely strong so yeah, they definitely ones to look out for the rest of the year."
All Blacks sevens fans should enjoy them while they can, however, as both will be back playing Super Rugby after Sydney and will return only for the last two legs of the series before August's Olympic Games.
Series standings leaders South Africa, reigning champions Fiji and England all won their three matches on day one and will complete Sunday's quarter-finals with the hosts, New Zealand, the United States, Kenya and Argentina.