New Zealand’s teen flier Vilimoni Koroi taking it all in his stride ahead of Hong Kong Sevens debut
Having burst on to the international scene at the HSBC World Sevens Series’ Sydney leg in February, the 18-year-old is ready for his first trip to Hong Kong Stadium
Vilimoni Koroi was out about on Monday acting just like any other 18-year-old Kiwi does on his first trip to Hong Kong as he took the skyscrapers towering above him and sucked in the heady atmosphere.
What separated Koroi from the pack, though, is the fact that he was not stretching his legs down Nathan, Queen’s or Lockhart Road, but across the grass at So Kon Po and his travelling companions just happen to be some of the greats of the game of sevens.
The kid with the label of the game’s next big thing was taking it all in his stride, too, as he has since bursting to international prominence when making his debut at the HSBC World Sevens Series’ Sydney leg in February – and then being named in the Las Vegas leg’s “dream team” last month.
There was a solid hit out with the New Zealand Sevens squad, a stretch and then time to reflect on the journey sevens rugby has taken him on so far.
“At first I was bloody stunned,” said Koroi, of the first time he ran out in the All Blacks strip.
“It was pretty hard to play the game. But I’ve just been bonding well with the team and they just help you be confident on the field and off the field. It’s really helped me.”
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The likes of veterans Scott Curry, DJ Forbes and Tim Mikkelson are ensuring Koroi knows what this sevens caper is all about, particularly when it comes to the atmosphere the teenager can expect when he first runs out at the Hong Kong Stadium.
Fijian heritage means Koroi was weaned on sevens history and he says he’s ready for action.
“I grew up watching this event, it’s a big thing in Fiji and it’s the pinnacle of events. So it’s good to be here,” said the winger.
“The older guys on the squad have really helped in terms of taking in all these experiences and taking in playing in the All Black jersey and what that means.”
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Koroi was the shinning light for New Zealand at the last world series event in Vancouver, sealing the Plate with a chip-and-charge in the dying seconds that showed the faith the youngster has in his own prowess – and brought his team from behind to beat Argentina 17-14.
“It’s good to give things a try,” he said of the audacious move. “You don’t really learn stuff unless you give them a go.”
The coach – as they often do – saw things a little differently, but was pleased just the same. Sort of.
“As a coach you see it and your heart stops beating,” said interim Kiwi boss Scott Waldrom said of the try.
“You don’t really encourage them to kick the ball, but it seemed to be a real weapon that he had in that tournament – three tries from chip and chase. So I’ve got to give him a little bit of leniency, but I don’t want it to come down to the last minute again.”
Waldrom said he had so far been impressed by Koroi’s temperament as much as his sheer talent.
“For an 18-year-old he seems to take everything pretty easily and just gets on with the job,” said Waldrom.
“So there’s not too much stress about the young fella being in this environment.”
The Kiwis have made four changes to their Vancouver/Las Vegas squad as they attempt to win their first tournament since in Canada last March.
Beaten finalists in Hong Kong last time around by the all-conquering Fiji 2016 side, they’ve added their own little touch of island flair to matters too, with Auckland flyer Joe Ravouvou making his debut this weekend.
“With Joe we’re excited to have another Fijian – they know sevens,” said Waldrom.
“He’s certainly got the ability to keep the ball alive and we’re all pretty excited about his abilities and what he can bring to this team.”
The selections will no doubt add some extra spice to what looms as one of the major early draw cards this weekend – when the Kiwis and the Fijians meet in pool C action on Saturday evening.
“We know Fiji are there and we know all about them at this tournament,” said Waldrom. “But we aren’t looking past the first game against Wales on Friday.”