Dubai Rugby Sevens: All Blacks ready for title defence

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A resurgent New Zealand side are back to defend their title at The Sevens Stadium this weekend, a year after beating the United States in scintillating fashion in Dubai

The victory last season, New Zealand’s first in the UAE since 2009, backed up July 2018’s World Cup win in San Francisco and put the team in strong stead for the campaign ahead.

Now back fit and firing, the Kiwis open the new campaign against Wales, Canada and Samoa as they bid to record their second victory in the Emirates.

Tony Philp, High Performance Manager for New Zealand Men’s team, believes the 16-week lead in to the Dubai Sevens has given the team an opportunity to leave no stone unturned for the year ahead as they ramp up preparations for the Tokyo Olympics.

“We’ve adjusted really well and the team is training really well. The teams put a huge amount of effort in. It gave us an opportunity to slow down, speed up, look at our game, how we want to construct things, look at how we want to plan the season out and perform when we need to perform,” said Philp.

“We’re really fortunate and grateful for what we have as it gives us everything we need to get ready and perform at tournaments. There is a bit of an edge, like there is always is in tournament one.”

In the 2018/19 season, New Zealand finished third in the series behind Fiji and USA, winning in Dubai and Sydney, losing in the final in Paris, as well as reaching semi-finals in Cape Town, Hamilton and Las Vegas.

The omens for this season are good, too, as for three of the past four seasons the winner in the UAE has also gone on to lift the overall series title.

“I don’t think we had a missing ingredient (last year). It’s about us getting clearer and going deeper on what we are doing now. It’s about getting energised when we need to, making sure we are fresh and getting ready to rock and roll at the pinnacle moments,” said the Wellington-native.

“There is nothing missing, but it’s all about being clearer and clearer on what we already know.”

The sheer class is sprinkled throughout the New Zealand squad, but Fiji, South Africa and USA will also be chomping at the bit and primed to be at the pinnacle of their game in the lead up to Tokyo.

The series itself is a key priority for each team, but in the distance, there is no doubt that each coach and player will have an eye on the Olympics which kicks off two months after the season finale in Paris.

New Zealand, who lost to winners Fiji in the quarter-finals at the Rio Olympics, will be hoping last year’s World Cup success can help springboard them and provide that fresh cutting edge in key moments of crucial games.

“The Olympics is on at the end of the season and we can’t wait for that opportunity. Rio taught us a lot about management. We’ve been building over the last four years to ensure we are in the best shape possible,” said Philp.

“The Olympics is a tough world and, for us, we know that. Anyone on their day can win the tournament. We have to be at our very best to make sure we achieve the goal we are after.”

One of the men set to shine this weekend is William Warbrick, a player who excelled at the inaugural Red Bull Ignite7 talent search in Auckland last year to claim a place at the All Blacks Sevens National Development Camp.

After spending this pre-season with the All Blacks Sevens squad and impressing the coaches, the 20-year-old signed a two-year contract.

“William was someone who sparked our interest, and 12 months later, here he is back in Dubai. We are excited by this success and we know there are a few more gems in the background, and excited to see them turn up and play,” said Philp.

“William will get opportunities to play and absorb what is an amazing tournament to start off with. He’s an exciting young man and a star of the future.”

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