Hong Kong here he comes: superstar Sonny Bill Williams named in All Blacks Sevens side
Code-jumping standout emerges from injury cloud to book his place in squad as Olympic countdown also begins in earnest
New Zealand’s code-jumping superstar Sonny Bill Williams was on Friday confirmed for the All Blacks Sevens squad for next weekend’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Williams and fellow All Black Sevens star Isaac Te Tamaki have been named by coach Gordon Tietjens in a 14-strong squad that will be looking to capture a 12th title at the Hong Kong Stadium from April 8 to 10.
The Kiwis sit in the third place in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings – of which the Hong Kong event is the seventh leg – but just two points separate a top three that reads Fiji (106 points), South Africa (105) and New Zealand (104).
Williams had been under an injury cloud since the Las Vegas leg at the start of the month but there was a twinkle in Tietjens’ eyes as the squad sheet was released in New Zealand Friday morning.
And a look down the list will delight organisers in Hong Kong, as well as the All Blacks Sevens’ legions of fans.
Williams and the pacy Te Tamaki will be joined in Hong Kong by Liam Messam, another Super Rugby star, as well as Pita Ahki, a member of World Cup sevens winning side in 2013 and a player who has not been seen in the truncated form of the game since the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.
“Isaac is probably our fastest player. He has that X factor and can break out and do things out of nothing so he’s a real threat,” Tietjens told New Zealand media.
“Sonny Bill and Liam are back in the reckoning. Liam had a very good final in Vancouver and will want to back that up in Hong Kong.
“Sonny is coming off the back of two very good tournaments in Sydney and Wellington and wants to get back into it. He’s been training well and will be looking forward to Hong Kong.”
The Kiwis are among the teams keeping the Rio Olympics in August firmly in their sights and that has meant squad rotations have been the order of the day in the World Series so far.
For Hong Kong, that means there’s been no place found for rising stars and brothers, Akira and Rieko Ioane.
Tietjens revealed he had finalised the squad after putting his charges through a searching final pre-Hong Kong hit-out on Wednesday.
“All teams can sense we’re not far away from Rio. They’ll still trialling different players and that’s what we’ve done here,” said the coach.
“We all want to improve at every tournament so these next two tournaments [Singapore follows Hong Kong] are very important, looking out to Paris and London after that.”
New Zealand have drawn Samoa, France and Kenya in pool A for next weekend’s action at Hong Kong Stadium.
“There are no easy games,” said Tietjens. “It’s going to be tough so we have to get up for them.
“We’re only looking at one game at a time. The format is similar to what we will strike at Rio so we have to use to our advantage.”
All Blacks Sevens squad for Hong Kong: Pita Ahki, Kurt Baker, Dylan Collier, Sam Dickson, DJ Forbes, Gillies Kaka, Liam Messam, Tim Mikkelson (c), Sione Molia, Lewis Ormond, Teddy Stanaway, Isaac Te Tamaki, Regan Ware, Sonny Bill Williams.