The New Zealand Sevens team have been boosted by the return from injury of world class playmaker Gillies Kaka for the next two world series tournaments.
Kaka injured a shoulder playing for Hawke’s Bay in the NPC and missed the series-opening sevens tournament in Australia which New Zealand won.
Now he’s back for next week’s tournament in Dubai and in Port Elizabeth, South Africa the following week.
Coach Gordon Tietjens had no hesitation in returning Kaka, the World Cup player of the tournament this year, to his squad as he looks to maximise New Zealand’s good start in the leadup to Christmas.
Tietjens has also included Tasman’s Bryce Heem in his 12-man squad.
“With Gillies Kaka, a very good player – one of the best in the world – the player of the World Cup . . . so it’s great to have him back from injury,” Tietjens said.
“Bryce Heem has come out of a pretty good year with Tasman and again someone who is very big, fast, fit and knows the game, and he is going to add a lot of strength to our side.”
Tietjens is pleased with the depth that is developing, something that shone in the Mt Maunganui training camp this week.
“It’s important that you have those experienced players around you, but the team is really the form players that have performed right throughout the week,” he said.
“They have trained very well, are very, very fit.”
New Zealand won in Port Elizabeth last year, but have not won in Dubai since 2009, having been runner up last year.
“Dubai support us in a lot of ways with the expats that are there,” Tietjens said.
“There are heaps of Kiwis and it’s a great tournament to win. It’s a very tough pool with Kenya, the French and Portugal, and you have to beat every team to win it, so it’s going to be tough.
“But I am sure if our guys play to their potential and play with the real hunger we have displayed this week, they can go well.”
The New Zealand women’s team start the defence of their world series crown in Dubai, and coach Sean Horan has had mixed news on the injury front.
Seasoned Black Fern and record points-scorer Carla Hohepa and Shakira Baker are back for their first tournaments since February, but Portia Woodman, Ruby Tui, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Kelly Brazier and Vaine Greig are all unavailable with a variety of problems.
Horan said the players had retained good fitness and they were well-prepared for a return to Dubai.
“We’ve had a good re-start after a pretty whirlwind year,” he said.
“This week has been about re-setting ourselves, and looking ahead to our game plan for the year.
“Our goals for Dubai are to really improve on where we have been. We’re expecting other countries to have done a lot of work since the World Cup in Moscow and it’s important we maintain pace.”
The women play Fiji, Ireland and the United States in their pool in Dubai.
New Zealand sevens squads:
Men: Tomasi Cama, Scott Curry, Ambrose Curtis, Sam Dickson, DJ Forbes (c), Bryce Heem, Gillies Kaka, Tim Mikkelson, David Raikuna, Lote Raikabula, Sherwin Stowers, Joe Webber.
Women: Linda Itunu, Honey Hireme, Shakira Baker, Alexis Tapsell, Sarah Goss, Carla Hohepa, Hayley Hutana, Hazel Tubic, Huriana Manuel, Selica Winiata, Shiray Tane, Kayla McAlister
– © Fairfax NZ News