New Zealand 7s prepare for turf war in Las Vegas

Friday March 4 2016

Kenya's Humphrey Kayange tracks Sonny Bill Williams of New Zealand during their Wellington Sevens Cup quarter-finals at Westpac Stadium, Wellington. PHOTO | WORLD RUGBY |

Kenya's Humphrey Kayange tracks Sonny Bill Williams of New Zealand during their Wellington Sevens Cup quarter-finals at Westpac Stadium, Wellington. PHOTO | WORLD RUGBY |  

By AFP
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LAS VEGAS

New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens has warned his new-look team they will need to adapt quickly to the artificial turf being used at the Las Vegas Sevens this weekend if they are to bag their third tournament in a row.

World Rugby's International Sevens Series kicks off in the Nevada gambling haven on Friday with the New Zealanders looking to extend a fine run of results which saw them win both the Wellington and Sydney tournaments this year.

However, Tietjens sounded a note of caution as his team prepare to kick off on Friday against Portugal in Pool A, with the tournament being staged on an artificial surface at the Sam Boyd Stadium.
Tietjens anticipates the state-of-the-art field — which normally hosts the University of Nevada Las Vegas Rebels American football team — will take an energy-sapping physical toll.

"The legs will probably be a bit heavier, we may have a few grazes so we'll have to get over that," Tietjens said.

"But one thing you can be guaranteed is that you'll have a firm surface, so I think the teams that adjust to it, and adjust to it quickly, will have a good tournament.

"We trained on grass all week and we're playing our first two tournaments on (artificial turf) over the next two weeks.

"We'll certainly know what that's all about come Friday."

The stakes for competing teams have been given an added edge this season by the fact that rugby will make a return to the Olympics this year.

Several teams have drafted stars from the 15-a-side game into their Sevens squads although New Zealand have not brought World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams to Las Vegas following his appearance in Sydney.

Tietjens said he had opted to rest Williams from the squad but has instead included All Black Liam Messam.

"We're training pretty well. New players coming into the squad has made it a bit of a challenge but we're coming to grips with what we need to do as a team," Tietjens said. "The team's starting to gel."

New Zealand also face Kenya and Russia in the first round.

The tournament's Pool of Death sees Australia, England, Scotland and Japan grouped together in Pool B.

Interest will surround Australia, who have selected the elusive Quade Cooper, a star of the 15-a-side game.

"We're delighted to welcome Quade into the fold for Las Vegas," Australia coach Andy Friend said after announcing his squad.

Cooper trained with the Australians last month at the Sydney Sevens but did not play.

Friend meanwhile believes Australia, who open against Scotland, face multiple threats in the first round.

"We have drawn one of those pools that is evenly matched across the board," Friend said.

"We know what England will bring to the table while Scotland, no matter what level, has always caused Australian rugby sides a headache."

The tournament kicks off on Friday before culminating on Sunday.