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Six Super Rugby players are in New Zealand’s 12-strong squad for this tournament at Westpac Stadium, five of whom have prior experience in the sport. The odd man out is Williams, the two-time Rugby World Cup and National Rugby League premiership-winner.
His track record suggests he’ll crack this code too. Just maybe not this weekend, says New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens.
“The biggest challenge for us is around the guys that are coming in from 15-a-side programmes, to getting involved in sevens and how our game’s changed,” Tietjens said on Wednesday.
But he’s confident those subtleties could be absorbed quickly and mentioned Ardie Savea, Ben Lam and Rieko and Akira Ioane as four Super players who are on the way.
“They can make those adjustments to the game because they’ve always been passionate about sevens and are coming back into it. With Sonny it’s about learning what makes a good sevens player, getting an understanding of the rules, the patterns of play, the lines he needs to run and the defensive areas, because to be good at sevens you need to be a good defender,” said Tietjens.
“You’re accountable for all those things, plus you get a lot more attacking options. You’re going to be touching the balls a hell of a lot more than in fifteens.
“The big challenge in our game is decision making and that’s where you need to understand the game.”
Williams is accustomed to being outstanding at most things, but has had to accept he might not reach reach those heights for a while yet.
“He’s really nervous but that’s exciting for him,” Tietjens said.
“It’s not going to happen in the first tournament that he plays in. You’ll see some lovely qualities and you’ll see some areas where he may get exposed and we all understand that, but I’m confident he has what it takes to be a fine sevens player.”
Mostly because Williams has the right attitude.
“He’s a very quick learner because he’s very committed. He’s very passionate about making this side and when you’ve got the passion and you’ve got the commitment and the drive, that’s half the battle,” said Tietjens.
Williams’ Chiefs and All Blacks team-mate Liam Messam was at New Zealand training on Wednesday, having arrived back from an offseason stint playing in Japan. A two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist in sevens, Messam has a calf injury to get over before Tietjens will elevate him from training duties to playing.
His situation is in keeping with the general theme that this squad is a work in progress. In previous years this Wellington tournament would’ve ranked as a real priority, but 2016 is all about August’s Olympic Games.
“If we can perform really, really well and knit together with our combinations in a short space of time, I’d like to think that we could go there or thereabouts to winning our own tournament,” Tietjens said.
“Obviously the goals for us is that we’d like to win it but, in reality, it may not happen. In saying that, as long as we make strides towards our next tournament, which is Sydney, and then further on to Canada and Singapore, [Las] Vegas; all those tournaments are going to be huge for us heading towards Rio.
“Remembering, too, that at future tournaments I may have different combinations.”