Lions lure led to Rokocoko snub
'I didn't want to take any players not mentally there and prepared to play,' says Kiwi coach Tietjens
The lure of playing against the British Lions led to star All Blacks winger Joe Rokocoko turning down the opportunity to play at the Rugby World Cup Sevens, said disappointed Kiwi coach Gordon Tietjens yesterday.
Tietjens said the snub by a number of leading Super 12 players - some due to personal preferences and others because of pressure from some of the country's franchises - had dealt a major blow to New Zealand's hopes of defending the World Cup at the March 18-20 tournament in Hong Kong.
'It will definitely be harder now that I haven't got the players I wanted. It is very frustrating, especially where Joe Rokocoko is concerned. Outside influences resulted in him and a number of others staying away,' said Tietjens yesterday. New Zealand are the top seeds in the 24-team competition.
'In initial discussions with Joe Rokocoko, he was really keen and then in the last 24 hours he expressed an interest not to be considered. That's disappointing and really sad,' said Tietjens.
Tietjens unveiled his training squad earlier this week and it was missing a number of big-name players like Rokocoko, Caleb Ralph and Rico Gear. The Kiwi mastermind was left with just three Super 12 players - Highlanders flanker Josh Blackie, Chiefs midfielder Grant McQuoid and Blues winger Rudi Wulf.
Blues coach Peter Sloane said he had spoken to Rokocoko about the issues and, while the winger appreciated the interest from Tietjens, he did not want to compromise his international chances.
'A number of senior players are mindful of the Lions tour and are pushing for places in the All Blacks. I didn't want to take any players not mentally there and prepared to play in the World Cup. It is very frustrating,' Tietjens said.
'This is the World Cup which only comes around every four years so it's the big one and I had planned ahead to use the players that I'd expressed a real interest in. It does put a bit more pressure on us now especially with the other big teams like England, Fiji and Samoa getting their top players together.'
England have included former Kiwi and ex-rugby league star Henry Paul and flying wingers Ugo Monye and Richard Haughton in their squad while Fiji have called up a legion of their overseas-based stars like wingers Vilimoni Delasau, Sireli Bobo and Rupeni Caucau.
Samoa have also got two of their New Zealand-based Super 12 players, Lome Fa'atau (Hurricanes) and Sailosi Tagicakibau (Chiefs), released.
To make matters worse for Tietjens, he is anxiously awaiting a fitness report on Roy Kinikinilau, one of New Zealand's stars during their IRB Sevens campaign this season.
Kinikinilau, a powerful winger, is still recovering from a hamstring injury he picked up during the Wellington Sevens early last month.
'I'm waiting to see if Roy is fit enough to be picked for Hong Kong. He pulled a hamstring in Wellington and also has lower back problems. He did not play in the Los Angeles Sevens and I'm hoping that he has recovered by now,' said Tietjens.
'But I'm confident that the players I have will perform. It just makes us more determined really. I know they will give it their very best.'