HONG KONG SEVENS
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Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2016

Olympics give coaches selection headaches as players jostle for places

Fiji’s Ben Ryan says more than a hundred players are fighting for just 14 spots on Pacific island nation’s squad for Rio

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2016, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2016, 10:48pm

Twenty-four doesn’t go into 14, no matter how you do the maths. But that’s the equation that’s been presented to the majority of teams gathered for the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens as they work out combinations ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio this August.

The leading nations in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series generally train with a squad of 24 but will only take 14 – at most – to the Olympics and with an influx of national 15-a-side stars queueing up for the chance to go for gold, that’s meant heavy rotations, along with selection and game-plan headaches for coaches.

We have over 100 professional players in France, a huge number of whom have played international sevens for Fiji and all of them want to play in an Olympic Games
Ben Ryan, Fiji coach

“We have over 100 professional players in France, a huge number of whom have played international sevens for Fiji and all of them want to play in an Olympic Games,” said Fiji coach Ben Ryan.

“And we’ve got very good players back on the islands putting their players up very strongly, too. But if you are selected and you play well the debate {about who to select} becomes less of a large one. Competition is high, as I am sure it is for all nations.”

As we get down to the business end of Sevens week, the official “meet the captains” photo shoot was held Wednesday, and coaches from the three leading teams, plus the hosts, presented.

South African coach Neil Powell was quick to brush aside any suggestion some players might be trying to saves themselves for Rio.

“If you hold back that’s when injuries happen,” Powell said. “So there’ll be no holding back from us.

“Having competition is always good as it brings out the best in individuals so it has been good to have the 15s guys come in, they’ve brought their enthusiasm into the squad.”

WATCH: Fiji, South Africa and New Zealand coaches meet the Hong Kong media

Having competition is always good as it brings out the best in individuals so it has been good to have the 15s guys come in, they’ve brought their enthusiasm into the squad
Neil Powell, South Africa coach

Tietjens said his players had warmed to a few searching training sessions.

“We’ve trained particularly well right throughout the week and we’ve got through it injury free,” said Tietjens, who trimmed his match weekend squad from 14 to 12.

The big guns made the cut, among them Rugby World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams, 15s standout Liam Messam and the intriguing Pita Ahki, back in the sevens fold after finding his playing time with the Hurricanes in Super Rugby limited.

“We have a particularly tough draw and also it’s the nearest we are going to get to Rio as it’s a three-day tournament and we can use that, hopefully, to our advantage later on during the year.

“As we’ve seen this year it’s very competitive at the top [of the world series] with one point separating the top three teams but also not forgetting there’s six or seven other teams who could be lifting that cup here come Sunday night. So it’s competitive, it’s great to see rugby sevens has continued to grow.”

Fiji (106) are on top of the series standings, followed by South Africa (105) and New Zealand (104).

For Ryan and his squad there have been much more pressing matters to deal with this week, not least the threat of another cyclone hitting their homeland only a month after the destruction of Cyclone Winston.

With around 5 per cent of the island nation’s residents still without shelter – and the new storm looming on Wednesday – Ryan said his squad had been glued to news reports all day.

“Boys lost houses, families lost livelihoods,” said Ryan. “It’s not been a lucky time for Fiji and the boys have obviously been affected on a personal level.

“Saying that Fijians are incredibly resilient. They’ve not moaned about it and they’ve not complained about it and they certainly won’t use it as an excuse for any lack of preparation.”