Kaka’s return boosts Tietjens as New Zealand aim to bounce back
All Blacks Sevens specialist recovers from injury as squad hopes to put memory of a disappointing fourth place in Tokyo behind them
All Blacks Sevens superstar Gillies Kaka passed a fitness test on Wednesday and will be back in the fray this weekend in a rejuvenated team bidding to put the memory of their worst finish in this season’s IRB Sevens World Series – fourth place at the Tokyo Sevens – behind them.
"Gillies is okay and that is good for the team. We missed him last week after he got injured in our very first game against Wales," said a relieved New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens.
Tietjens kept a close eye on Kaka as he was put through his paces alone once the rest of the squad completed a training session at So Kon Po.
Kaka, 23, is one of a rare breed of players from New Zealand - a sevens specialist.
While most other up-and-coming youngsters covet a place in the All Blacks side, Kaka has thrown his lot in with sevens ahead of the 2016 Olympics.
He is one of an unprecedented eight sevens players who were awarded full-time contracts last year by the New Zealand Rugby Union.
Top players are on contracts worth almost HK$800,000 a year. The aim of sevens supremo Tietjens is to have a squad of around 20 full-time players by the time the Rio Olympics roll around. Kaka is in the first wave.
"He is a key player. If he wasn't fit, we might have even flown in Tomasi Cama [who is recovering from an injury back home]," said a smiling Tietjens.
"But it is crucial to have a core of experienced players for Hong Kong and Kaka falls into that bracket, having played in Hong Kong before."
Tietjens made light of New Zealand's poor finish in the Tokyo Sevens last Sunday.
England defeated the Kiwis in the third-place play-off 21-12, but Tietjens brushed aside that result as being inconsequential in the scale of things.
"Once we failed to get into the final [after losing to Fiji 17-12] I decided to rest all of the experienced players and give our youngsters a go.
"There was no point risking players such as DJ Forbes, Tim Mikkelson, Bryce Heem and Ben Lam before Hong Kong in one last game in Tokyo where the difference between winning and losing was just one point [on the World Series points table]," Tietjens said.
"One point is not going to make a huge difference to winning the World Series, but if we had picked up injuries to key players in that third-place play-off, that would have impacted on our Hong Kong Sevens campaign.
"When we have back-to-back tournaments like this, it is all about managing your squad.
"I made a decision to rest DJ and company and in the end it worked well for us when Fiji went on to beat South Africa, who now only lead us by two points. We have been in this situation and it is not a winning lead."
South Africa lead New Zealand by 116 points to 114 entering the seventh leg of the Sevens World Series. Fiji are in third place on 95 points. In a bid to extend their lead and, more crucially, win their first Hong Kong Sevens, South Africa have brought in Cecil Afrika, who has recovered from a hamstring niggle and will replace Steven Hunt.
Fiji have also made two changes to their winning side from Tokyo, with Joeli Lutumailagi and Samu Saqiwa replacing Jasa Veremalua and Leo Naikasau.
"I told the players that if they didn't front up I would be making changes," said Fiji coach Ben Ryan, who argued that the pressure was on his squad to perform despite winning in Tokyo. "We can lose every game in the World Series and the fans back home will forgive us as long as we win the Hong Kong Sevens."
Fiji are bidding to become the first team to win three Cup hat-tricks here. But standing in the way will be a rejuvenated All Blacks Sevens side.
Visualising the results of past Sevens http://www.scmp.com/hk7s2014