Papua New Guinea go into their first big test of 2017 having kept faith with the squad that gained qualification for the Wellington and Sydney rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and the 2017-18 qualifier in Hong Kong via a fourth-place finish at the Oceania Sevens in Fiji in November.
Henry Kalua and Willie Tirang, two of the standout performers in Suva, are included in the 12-man party, while Max Valia, Wesley Vali, Manu Guise, Dean Manale and Arthur Clement, the captain at the Oceania Sevens, bring much-needed experience as PNG prepare to take on the might of England, Kenya and Argentina in Pool A in Wellington.
“We’re under no illusions that it is going to be extremely difficult but, having chatted to the coaches, we’re looking to build on what we achieved at the Oceania Sevens,” said Papua New Guinea Rugby Union General Manager Frank Genia.
“Our coach, Douglas Guise, was fairly happy with the performance of all of the players but gave particular mention to Henry Kalua and Willie Tirang, a young fella who was playing for our U20s only last year."
While winning one of their pool games would probably rank as a success in Wellington, PNG travel to New Zealand knowing they have what it takes to mix it with the best.
At the Oceania Sevens, they led mighty Fiji 12-7 only for the Olympic gold medallists and HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2015-16 champions to come back strongly in the second half and win 31-12.
“When you’ve got the world’s number one team on the ropes at half-time, it definitely gives you a lot of confidence,” Genia admitted.
“Unlike a lot of the other Pacific nations teams, we’re not quite as big and physical so we try to bring our strengths to the fore which is our agility and our speed.
“Moving forward Hong Kong is the big one for us, we will be playing against teams on a similar level to us for a chance to qualify for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2017-18.”
PNG squad: Henry Kalua, Willie Tirang, Danny Opa, Nathan Baramun, Wesley Vali, Manu Guise, Arthur Clement, Freddy Rova, Dean Manale, Gairo Kapana, Patrick Tatut, Max Vali.
POOL B: South Africa, Fiji, Australia, Japan
Australia head coach Andy Friend has named two debutants in his squad for this weekend’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series event in Wellington.
Tate McDermott and Dylan Pietsch will make their debuts for Australia, as two of five changes to the squad that finished 11th in Cape Town last month.
Former captain Ed Jenkins will sit out the New Zealand leg of the series after injuring his shoulder in Cape Town last month while forward Jesse Parahi succumbed to a jaw injury at training.
Parahi joins Nick Malouf (knee), John Porch (ankle) and Tom Lucas (knee) among those not considered for selection but all four are expected to return to full training ahead of the HSBC Las Vegas sevens leg in March. Skipper Lewis Holland continues his achilles rehabilitation ahead of a return next season.
“Both Tate and Dylan performed well up at Darwin on the weekend, they really stood out and now they get a chance to represent their country," said Friend.
“Dylan’s quite a big bloke for an 18-year old, he’s got a good step on him and a good carry of the football. Momentum is his friend, he’s a powerful boy.
“The important thing for us is to get out of that third tier of teams," said Friend. "We finished 11th in our last tournament and we have put ourselves in a very tough pool, so we have to fight and get out of that.
“Sydney is our target tournament this year and it’s our home tournament. It’s Australia playing in Australia so it’s very exciting but in saying that, we have to go to Wellington and do a job there. We know Sydney is around the corner but Wellington is the main focus right now.”
Australia squad: Henry Hutchison, Tom Kingston, Sam Myers, Alex Gibbon, James Stannard, Tate McDermott*, Boyd Killingworth, Dylan Pietsch*, Tim Anstee, Michael Adams, Charlie Taylor, Conor Mitchell, Simon Kennewell
Five of the Fijian Barbarians team that won last weekend’s Sudamerica Rugby Sevens Series have been rewarded for their performances in Uruguay and Chile with a place in the Fiji squad for the upcoming Wellington and Sydney Sevens.
Mesulame Kunavula and Nacanieli Labalaba will make their series debuts, while Kalioni Nasoko, Amenoni Nasilasila and Alivereti Veitokani return to the side.
Retained from the last round in Cape Town are Jasa Veremalua, Sevuloni Mocenacagi, Setareki Bituniyata, Nemani Nagusa, Jerry Tuwai, Osea Kolinisau, Samisoni Viriviri and Joeli Lutumailagi.
Vatemo Ravouvou, who missed out on the first leg of the series, has also been named in the team.
Coach Gareth Baber, who is taking charge of Fiji for the first time since his appointment as Ben Ryan’s successor, said all five deserved their call-ups.
“We believe that we have selected a very good team which has a mixture of experienced and youthful players. I am confident that the team will do well in both tournaments,” he said.
“Some of the senior players are still recovering from injury and will be considered for the next leg once their rebab has been completed.”
Fiji squad: Jasa Veremulua, Sevuloni Mocenacagi, Setareki Bituniyata, Nemani Nagusa, Kalioni Nasoko, Mesulame Kunavula, Jerry Tuwai, Vatemo Ravouvou, Osea Kolinisau (Capt.), Alifereti Veitokani, Amenoni Nasilasila, Samisoni Viriviri, Nacanieli Labalaba, Joeli Lutumailagi
POOL C: New Zealand, USA, France, Samoa
New Zealand have named four new players in their 14-man squad to challenge for a fourth consecutive HSBC Wellington Sevens title on 28-29 January.
Trael Joass, Andrew Knewstubb, Tone Ng Shiu and Vilimoni Koroi will be joined by household names such as captain Scott Curry, Tim Mikkelson and all-time sevens appearance record holder DJ Forbes as they look to notch up their first tournament win of the 2016-17 series.
In 2016, the All Blacks Sevens won a stunning final against South Africa 24-21, after Joe Webber scored a last gasp try to sink Neil Powell's Blitzboks outfit. The team, which featured Sonny Bill Willams, also went on to secure the HSBC Sydney Sevens title with another close fought match against Australia.
Interim New Zealand head coach Scott Waldrom said the new selections were based on performance at the recent national sevens tournament in Rotorua.
“We said that the guys performing well would be the ones rewarded with selection. We are confident that this squad contains the best sevens rugby players in the country at the moment. “It’s exciting to put Trael, Andrew, Vilimoni and Tone into the All Blacks Sevens environment in Wellington. Our focus when we go into camp next Monday is to bring the new guys up to speed with our structures and the team culture. “There is also a lot of experience in the squad. DJ Forbes will play his 82nd World Series tournament in Wellington, and a number of the other players have been part of successful campaigns over the years. It is good to have a mix of experience and new talent to keep us fresh."
New Zealand squad: Scott Curry (captain), Dylan Collier, DJ Forbes, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Trael Joass, Rocky Khan, Andrew Knewstubb, Vilimoni Koroi, Tim Mikkelson, Sione Molia, Tone Ng Shiu, Sherwin Stowers, Isaac Te Tamaki, Regan Ware