An injury-hit New Zealand will be without talisman Gordon Tietjens in the build-up to the Sevens next week with the coach laid low by an ear infection.
The All Blacks Sevens will be missing a number of top-line players due to injury with the biggest blow being playmaker and goal-kicker Tomasi Cama. Other influential absentees are Kurt Baker, Toby Arnold, Scot Curry, Mark Jackman and David Raikuna, a youngster who has caught the eye this season.
And now an ear infection has robbed the Kiwis of their visionary coach during the crucial build-up. Tietjens is scheduled to arrive on the eve of next week's Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
"I need a little more time to come right so I am planning to come next Thursday," said Tietjens, who was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame last year after leading New Zealand to a 10th world series crown.
It will be the first time since Tietjens took charge of the squad in 1994 that he will not be around to run the tough pre-tournament boot-camp-type training sessions which have now become legendary with the players as well as opposing teams.
Cama, the IRB Sevens Player of the Year last season, will be part of the extended squad in the hope he will be ready for the Japan Sevens the week after the Hong Kong showpiece. Cama and skills coach Damian Karauna will run the build-up in the absence of Tietjens.
"Damian is very experienced, having played for the All Blacks Sevens over eight seasons. He knows the drills and tactics having been with us since late last year so I am sure the team will be well prepared," said Tietjens, who named his squad yesterday.
Only three players survive from last year's squad which lost 38-25 to Fiji in the final. They are captain DJ Forbes, Tim Mikkelson and Lote Raikabula.The rest of the squad comprises new faces to Hong Kong: Sam Dickson, Matt Faddes, Gillies Kaka, Rocky Khan, Ben Lam, Luke Masirewa, Trinity Spooner-Neera, Sherwin Stowers and Belgium Tuatagaloa.
"The injuries have opened the door to some new players and that is a great opportunity for them and certainly helps us build greater depth for the side which is good for the long term," said Tietjens.
"We want to do well in Hong Kong and Tokyo to cement our place at the top of the world series table heading into the final legs in Glasgow and London."
The All Blacks Sevens head the standings on 96 points with South Africa in second place on 73. Samoa (71), Fiji (66) and France (59) make up the top five.
New Zealand, bidding for their 11th Cup title, are drawn with the United States, France and Kenya in the preliminary round of the top tier tourna-ment.