After 25 months on the sidelines, the national men’s teams of New Zealand and Samoa will finally return to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Singapore this weekend.
Neither team has played since the HSBC Canada Sevens in Vancouver in March 2020 due to the effects of COVID-19 and will be desperate to take to the field after so long away.
Refresher for who we face in Pool C this weekend… https://t.co/qUvqMm1X4o— All Blacks Sevens (@AllBlacks7s) April 4, 2022
“Just talking to a few of the lads, they are really excited,” said former New Zealand sevens star turned HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series commentator Karl Te Nana.
“When the borders opened up in New Zealand, they went over to Fiji and had a run over there.
“Getting off the training field and into some live games is something they have been missing for some time.
“I know a lot of them have been watching the Sevens Series as it has been going on and they are dying to get out there.
“They’re under no illusions it is going to be tough,” he added. “To be good at sevens, you have got to be playing sevens.
“The Kiwi boys will have to get up to speed quickly with the trends that happen so quickly in sevens.”
Rush legacy lives on
Singapore will be the starting point of New Zealand’s build-up to the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 later this year and head coach Clark Laidlaw has named a mixture of experienced heads and young blood in his squad.
The five debutants include Bay of Plenty half-back Leroy Carter, North Harbour speedster Moses Leo, teenager Caleb Tangitau, Auckland’s Kitiona Vai, and Northland’s Brady Rush, the son of All Blacks Sevens legend Eric Rush.
The squad also features seven silver medallists from the Tokyo Olympics – Sam Dickson, Dylan Collier, Andrew Knewstubb, Tone Ng Shiu, Akuila Rokolisoa, Regan Ware and Joe Webber.
Te Nana played with Eric Rush for many years and is looking forward to seeing how his son gets on.
“I’ve known Brady since he was a little baby, and I know he has been working hard towards this goal for a very long time,” said Te Nana, a Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens gold medal winner.
“As soon as I heard the squad, I gave him a tinkle and said congratulations. I am looking forward to seeing him do it live and in person.
“Brady is a multi-skilled talent. He has got a great pass on him, he is big, strong and quick, and he is keen and only young.
“He can play multiple positions in the sevens team so it’ll be interesting to see how he acclimatises to the international standard but I don’t think it’ll take long because he’s a level-headed guy.
“His dad and Waisele Serevi were probably the two best players to have ever played sevens rugby, so to follow in his footsteps and pull on that black jersey means a lot to him and his dad and his family. It’s a big weekend for the Rush family.”
Argentina to pose tough challenge
New Zealand have been drawn in Pool C with Argentina, Scotland and Wales.
Having picked up three bronze medals and a silver, Argentina sit second to all-conquering South Africa in the overall World Series standings.
“Argentina are tough, they’re a good side,” said Te Nana.
“When the Kiwi boys played them in the Olympics, they were very lucky.
“(Coach) Santiago Gomez Cora is a good mate of mine and he’s a smart dude and he knows how to motivate these guys.
“New Zealand and Argentina always have tough clashes. They have always been physical and intense, and Argentina always match up well against us because they love that contact area, they are so proficient there.
“And with Scotland and Wales, they’ve had players playing at the top level already, so they have got miles under the belt.
“In sevens, if you make a mistake and a couple of bounces of the ball go against you, you can be in trouble. So the Kiwi boys will have to be accurate against all the teams.”
See you soon Singapore! 🙌🏽 pic.twitter.com/X1NwhhNyhd— @ManuSamoaSevens (@manusamoa7s) April 3, 2022
Samoa back in the mix
Manu Samoa Sevens had been due to play in the last two legs in Spain, in Malaga and Seville in January, but had to withdraw at the 11th hour due to COVID-19.
The first squad back on the Series features nine debutants, with Melani Matavao, Vaafauese Apelu Maliko and Vaovasa Afa Sua named as co-captains.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they mix together,” Te Nana pointed out.
“A lot of their big boys are playing Super Rugby in New Zealand so it is an opportunity for some of the younger players on the Island to have a go.
“Hopefully they’ll go alright.”
Samoa are in Pool B with Australia, England and Spain.
The HSBC Singapore Sevens was last played in 2019 when South Africa beat Fiji 20-19 in a brilliant final.
England won the bronze final against the USA, while Samoa edged New Zealand for fifth place.
The Singapore round is the fifth of nine tournaments on the men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022, and South Africa currently hold an 18-point lead at the top of the standings after winning every title available to them.
New Zealand and Samoa’s inclusion strengthens the field, however, and the Blitzboks will know they will have to be right on top of their game if they go on to meet either team in the knockout stages.