A new era of professional sevens rugby in New Zealand is officially here as All Blacks Sevens Coach Clark Laidlaw introduces new talent, rejuvenates experienced legs and unveils a new home base for the squad.
With more than half of the 2017/18 squad finalised, Laidlaw has today confirmed Bailey Simonsson (Bay of Plenty) and Jona Nareki (Otago) among the new talent contracted for the 2017/2018 international season. Kurt Baker makes a return to the group, bringing back some valuable experience following sevens legend DJ Forbes’ retirement this year.
“There is some good young talent in Bailey Simonsson and Jona Nareki; and we’re hoping to lock in a few more as well. We need to be part of the New Zealand Rugby player development process and we are working hard with the Super Rugby Clubs and Provincial Unions to strengthen those pathways,” said Laidlaw.
“It’s great to have Kurt Baker back; he is highly motivated, brings experience and a great competitive mentality which will be great for our group.” The All Blacks Sevens kick off their 2017/2018 season at the Oceania Rugby Sevens in Fiji in November before the first legs of the HSBC Sevens Series in Dubai and Cape Town in December.
“It’s a busy season for us with two extra tournaments on the calendar,” said Laidlaw, alluding to the Commonwealth Games in April and Rugby World Cup Sevens in July.
“That is a hugely exciting opportunity for us with two pinnacle events being included, it gives us two more tournaments together and two more chances to win."
“The guys have said they were disappointed and frustrated with last season and so are looking forward to what’s ahead; they are motivated to do better.”
This week marks the official start of a newly centralised Sevens programme, based in Tauranga. All contracted All Blacks Sevens players are now required to live near their base in the Bay of Plenty. Laidlaw said a permanent, centralised base for the squad will provide countless benefits as they embark on their new era.
“Previously players would spend anywhere between 150-170 nights a year away from home. Centralisation will reduce this by up to 50 nights a year, delivering more time together but less time away from the important support networks of family and loved ones.”