On the eve of Queenstown’s eighth national rugby sevens, veteran New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens says the sport’s in for a “massive surge”.
Tietjens, who recently coached NZ to its fourth Commonwealth Games gold medal, says the sport’s getting more recognition ahead of its 2016 Olympics debut.
“I think in the next three or four years you’re going to see a massive surge in sevens rugby because it’s providing players with some real opportunity to get vitally important exposure.
“Certainly for the younger players, that are leaving school, going through the age-group teams, being involved in the ITM Cup but haven’t got Super 15 contracts, there’s a real interest for them to play sevens now.”
Provinces are putting more effort into promoting the game, Tietjens adds.
As a result, he says the Queenstown sevens will only improve as a spectacle.
“Because our international game of 15s is played at a massive pace, sevens complements it big-time.”
Tietjens notes that from the latest Commonwealth Games team, Hosea Gear and Liam Messam were plucked for the All Blacks’ end-of-year tour.
After this weekend’s tournament, Tietjens names a newly-contracted 15-man squad for the next six tournaments in the world series.
“Those players in Queenstown are playing for a contract, effectively – it’s money, and a real opportunity.”
From the 16 teams competing in Queenstown, he’s picking the top four will include Waikato – last years’ winner – and runners-up Bay of Plenty. Rounding it out will be Auckland, and minnow Tasman, which recently beat
The 11 North Island teams, plus Canterbury, competed in a tournament at Mount Maunganui last Sunday – won by host Bay of Plenty – which should have them all match-hardened, Tietjens says.
For Tietjens, the players to watch are Waikato’s Frank Halai and Declan O’Donnell, and Bay of Plenty’s “very fast young winger” Sekeli Bola.
Tietjens, who’s also coached NZ to eight world series titles since 1994, says he’s just signed on for another two years.
Meanwhile, ex-All Black Stu Wilson – venue manager for major national sevens sponsor Pub Charity – says the Queenstown tournament is on the calendar “like the Auckland Cup, or Christchurch Cup Week”.
“You could always play it elsewhere but it wouldn’t have Queenstown’s charm and mystique.
“A lot of these North Island boys very rarely get into the South Island, to get into Queenstown is a bit of a treat.”
Wilson also raves about the Queenstown scenery captured by Sky TV cameras each year.
“We’re a bit blase about our tourism but you get that shot at the top of the [Skyline] cable of Lake Wakatipu and all of the magic of Queenstown, shit, that’s special.”