Pool A: PNG view Wellington as vital preparation for Hong Kong
Papua New Guinea call on an experienced group for the Wellington Sevens, while England are unchanged and Kenya bring back record try-scorer Collins Injera.
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.
Following a third-place finish in Dubai and victory in Cape Town a week later, England head coach Simon Amor has decided against making any changes to his squad for the next round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
England are second in the standings and face games against Papua New Guinea, Argentina and Kenya in Pool A in Wellington, New Zealand.
“We have a fully fit squad and after a decent outcome from the first two tournaments, we are in a positive place,” said Amor.
“There is only a short turnaround between the remaining tournaments and jet lag becomes a significant factor at this stage in the season.
“We’ve had the last block where there was a chance to go hard on fitness so it was great to see so many of the guys getting personal bests in their scores over the Christmas period. Those foundations are now in place, not just for the upcoming tournaments, but hopefully to carry us through the series.”
GOOD TRACK RECORD
England finished fourth in Wellington last year, and were runners up in 2015, contributing to an eight-year track record of consistently finishing in the event’s top four.
Amor added: “We have traditionally done well in this tournament and have good momentum from December but everyone understands there are big improvements that we must make in certain areas. The rest of the world will also have learned a lot from Dubai and Cape Town so we need to keep taking steps forward and be increasingly smarter with our decision making and how we play the game.”
Charlton Kerr will be 13th man for Wellington and Sydney having benefited from the experience of travelling with the squad to Cape Town. The 19-year-old was part of the England Sevens’ Academy side that won both the Singapore Cricket Club Sevens and Dubai International Invitational at the start of the season.
“The young guys are really knocking on the door and looking to prove that they deserve a place on the series,” said Amor. “With depth in the squad, it is exciting that we could have some new caps earned later in the season.”
England squad: Dan Bibby, Tom Bowen, Phil Burgess, Alex Davis, Richard de Carpentier, Ollie Lindsay-Hague, Charlie Hayter, Ruaridh McConnochie, Tom Mitchell (capt.), Dan Norton, James Rodwell, Ethan Waddleton
RECORD HOLDER INJERA BOOSTS KENYA
Kenya Sevens coach Innocent Simiyu has opted for experience as he names a strong 13-man squad for the Wellington and Sydney Sevens.
After being rested for the opening two legs in Dubai and Cape Town, all-time HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series record try-scorer Collins Injera gets the chance to add to his tally of 235 tries.
There will also be first appearances of the season for Sammy Oliech, who has now recovered from a hamstring injury, Bush Mwale and Eden Agero, while Oscar Ouma is also back to full fitness having been left out of the party that travelled to Dubai and Cape Town.
Captained by the evergreen Andrew Amonde, Kenya face England, Argentina and invitation side Papua New Guinea in Pool A in Wellington, New Zealand.
The Simba Sevens are currently in 10th place in the overall standings, on 17 points, after a disappointing semi-final loss in the Trophy in Dubai and a sixth-place finish in Cape Town.
Kenya squad: Andrew Amonde (captain),Willy Ambaka, Oscar Ouma, Dan Sikuta, Bush Mwale, Brian Tanga, Leonard Mugaisi, Eden Agero, Augustine Lugonzo, Sammy Oliech, Billy Odhiambo, Collins Injera, Nelson Oyoo.