Gordon Tietjens’ New Zealand Sevens squad will have to make enormous strides if they wish to capture Olympic Gold in Rio next summer after the Kiwis lost to Argentina in the cup quarter-final and then to the USA in the plate semi-final of the Cape Town Sevens.
Tietjens’ injury-depleted squad suffered their third loss to the USA in two tournaments but will be boosted by the looming arrivals of All Blacks’ Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam along with dynamic Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea.
The XV’s trio were named in Tietjens’ original squad in August but now look likely to hook up with the rest of the squad for the Wellington Sevens in January.
Speaking to CNN, Williams spoke of his admiration for some notable past Olympians and how this summer’s Olympics presents a stage he has yet to compete on.
“Going back in time, the best sportsmen ever have been Olympians – (Usain) Bolt, (Muhammad) Ali.
“It’s just an awesome opportunity. As a sportsman, most would like to go to the Olympics – and I haven’t achieved that.”
Williams is the only player in the squad to have not played the seven-man game before with Messam and Savea both having previously represented New Zealand in the Sevens World Series.
Despite his lack of game time in the sport, Tietjens believes that Williams possesses the natural skills to excel in the sport and that he will be a big asset for the squad with the Olympics just around the corner.
“Sonny Bill Williams is a great athlete and has shown he can adapt very easily to the demands of rugby. I see him adjusting very well to the fast pace of sevens.
“He’ll be a great attacking weapon with his speed, strength and uncanny ability to offload,” said Tietjens.
“We’re really pleased he’s committed to the full season. He knows competition for places will be intense so he’s giving himself the best chance of making the team for Rio.”
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena