NZ teams forced to pull out of Spain events



Stuff NZ Newspapers


The long wait for the All Blacks and Black Ferns Sevens teams to return to the World Series will continue, with both having withdrawn from this month’s two tournaments in Spain. Having not played on the circuit since its shut down in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, both the Kiwi men’s and women’s teams missed the opening two rounds in Dubai in November-December last year, but had been scheduled to play on the next stops in Malaga (January 21-23) and Seville (January 28-30). However, with the New Zealand government’s announcement last month of a delay to opening the border, it meant the teams would not have been able to re-enter the country following the tournaments. Yesterday, the same day the NZ 2022 squads were announced, World Rugby confirmed that the Kiwi sides would not take part in Spain, and had been replaced by Germany (men) and Belgium (women). That has now left New Zealand Rugby investigating domestic tournament options for their two flagship sevens sides while the borders are closed. They have both not played since last year’s Olympics in JulyAugust, where the women claimed gold and the men silver, in Tokyo. ‘‘It’s frustrating not being able to travel at the moment, but that is out of our control, what we can control is what we do here each day, the players have come back in great spirits and now it’s time to crack on, we’ll be ready for whenever the borders open and we can travel,’’ men’s coach Clark Laidlaw said in a statement. There are five more tournaments on the World Series calendar after Spain – Vancouver (February 26-27), Los Angeles (March 5-6), Singapore (April 9-10), Toulouse (May 20-22) and London (May 28-29). On top of that, it is a big year for sevens, with the Commonwealth Games (Birmingham, July 28-August 8) and the World Cup (Cape Town, September 9-11) both also on the calendar. The All Blacks Sevens have named a 22-man squad for the year, featuring five new players – Leroy Carter (Bay of Plenty), Che Clark (Auckland), Rhodes Featherstone (Taranaki), Roderick Solo (Wellington) and Caleb Tangitau (Auckland). The newcomers replace Will Warbrick and Ollie Sapsford, who have both moved across the ditch for contracts with the Melbourne Storm and the Brumbies, respectively, and Vilimoni Koroi, who has returned to the Highlanders. Scott Curry has also been released to play in Japan before returning in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games. Meanwhile, the Black Ferns Sevens have a new coaching setup to begin their new era. With the departure of Allan Bunting, now coach of the Chiefs Manawa side, Cory Sweeney takes full head coach responsibility, while Stu Ross continues as an assistant, joined by former All Blacks Sevens rep Ed Cocker, and Crystal Kaua – who established the highly successful Hamilton Girls’ High School rugby programme – becomes the first woman to hold a professional coaching role in the Black Ferns Sevens, coming on board as skills coach/performance analyst. The Black Ferns Sevens squad of 20 features fresh faces in recent school leavers Jorja Miller (Christchurch Girls’ High School) and Kelsey Teneti (Hamilton Girls’ High School), and Sweeney has already been impressed with the teenagers.