New-look Otago team training hard

Taylor Haugh.
Taylor Haugh.
Otago will field a new-look team for this year's sevens campaign but one which will not lack effort.

Otago will be coached by Roy Hawker and he has been working hard with a wide group of players to develop their skills and fitness.

The sevens calendar has changed this season. The national tournament is set to be played in Tauranga next month, as opposed to the middle of January in Rotorua.

The earlier date meant players did not have to train through the Christmas-New Year period.

Gavin Starker
Gavin Starker

Otago is full of fresh faces and Hawker said the side would have to look at playing a fast paced game. Sevens had trended towards a power game of late but Hawker said Otago did not have the players to go down that route. It was also struggling for height at kick-offs.

Hawker though was not despondent - as it had always been the Otago way to battle against bigger and more powerful teams.

It did not have any players from the Otago Mitre 10 Cup side. Otago players were either contracted to the Highlanders, were training partners with the Highlanders, were looking at other opportunities or wanted to take some time off.

Hawker said that was understandable but he was happy with the players he had, who were all keen.

He had assembled about 30 players to train three times a week and said the approach so far was to akin to a summer rugby training school, looking at ways for players to develop their skills.

He had been impressed with the commitment and energy shown by the players who have turned up and were committed to dedicating part of their summer to learning their craft and upskilling.

He was working on agility, speed, quick decision-making and defence.

Hawker said the game was a good way into the upper reaches of rugby in NZ. He had counted 17 players who had started out in sevens in Otago and were now professional players, including Brad Weber, Gareth Evans and Matt Faddes.

The Otago side played Southland in a series of games last Saturday in Balclutha and Hawker was impressed with the way the players performed.

The side will look to new New Zealand sevens representative Taylor Haugh and former Otago winger Gavin Stark for guidance. There are other club players involved, such as Ben Miller and Josh Casey, while players from other grades are also putting their hands up.

The first tournament is in Oamaru this Saturday, where Otago will send two teams. Hawker said he was yet to decide whether he will send two teams of equal ability or one stronger than the other. Teams from Mid Canterbury, South Canterbury, Canterbury, a couple of North Otago invitation teams and Southland will be at the tournament. There is no women's competition in Oamaru.

The South Island regional qualifications tournament is in Timaru on December 1 and the top five teams will qualify for the national tournament on December 15-16.

Otago finished out of the top eight at this year's national tournament in Rotorua, eventually finishing 11th.

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