By Greg Thomas
The International Rugby Board’s commitment to the global development of the Game ahead of Rugby Sevens’ debut at the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio de Janeiro was highlighted recently by a four-day development camp held at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra.
The IRB’s regional association in Oceania, the Federation of Oceania Rugby Unions (FORU), held a Sevens academy camp for development Unions American Samoa and Cook Islands last month in order to prepare the teams for their participation at the HSBC Sevens World Series tournament in Hong Kong in late March. The two emerging nations qualified for the renowned Hong Kong event through the 2013 Oceania Sevens Championship.
The camp was jointly funded by FORU and Oceania National Olympic Commitees (ONOC). The two organisations have a memorandum of understanding in place aimed at maximising the number of Oceania teams competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and ensuring that they compete to their best ability.
Cook Islands and American Samoa finished fourth and fifth respectively behind Samoa, Fiji and Australia at the 2013 Oceania Sevens to qualify for Hong Kong. This means there will be six Oceania teams competing in Hong Kong. New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Samoa in the main 16-team World Series competition and American Samoa and Cook Islands in the 12-team World Series core team qualifier tournament from which the winner will win promotion to the nine-tournament World Series in 2014/15.
Practical and technical programmes
The Sevens academy camp in Canberra had the aim of preparing American Samoa and Cook Islands for Hong Kong and future Sevens tournaments, including Olympic qualification, by delivering practical and technical programmes. On the field the teams were drilled in defensive and attacking techniques, set piece systems and tactical scenarios. Classroom sessions included essential information on preparation, nutrition, rehabilitation, recovery and mental skills.
The camp was delivered under the guidance of IRB high performance consultant Dave Hadfield from New Zealand. Assisting him with the camp were Australian Scott Wisemantel – currently Japan’s assistant coach – and Sevens specialist coach Willie Rickards from New Zealand, who were both engaged for the camp by FORU.
American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States and comprises five main islands and two coral atolls with a land area of just 200 square kilometres. It is one of FORU’s youngest Unions, with a population of around 55,000 and it lies southeast of Samoa and west of the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean.
Rugby Union has been played in American Samoa since 1924 but the American Samoa Rugby Union was only established in 1990 and it became fully affiliated to the IRB in 2012. It is already making great progress in Sevens.
Excited to qualify for Hong Kong
Vice-captain and centre Kamilo Soi said: “The team was very excited to be invited to the AIS in Canberra and to qualify for Hong Kong for the first time ever. The camp was a great opportunity to gain more knowledge and technical skills on Sevens as this type of training is important if we are to improve. We have worked hard on set pieces such as restarts and lineouts and we are very grateful to the specialist coaches who have spent time with us.”
American Samoa coach Setefano Fata added: “The AIS is a very impressive set-up and the boys have learned a lot at the camp. The team is learning about the discipline required on and off the field to be competitive at this level and the technical and tactical sessions have been great.
“As a coach, I have learned how to look at Sevens in a more professional way. Scott and Willie have made me understand the finer points and the way Sevens is played at the highest levels. With this new knowledge I can revise our game plan for Hong Kong and in the coming weeks we will practice and adjust our play as we prepare for the tournament.”
Rugby in the Cook Islands also started in the 1920s. The Union was founded in 1989 and became part of the IRB in 1995. The Cook Islands have been playing international Rugby since the 1970s and have a busy few months ahead of them. The Sevens team will play in Hong Kong in March while the national Fifteens team will play Fiji in June in the final Oceania Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification match. That match will decide who qualifies for England 2015 as Oceania 1.
Greg Mullany of the Cook Islands has played six times for his nation’s Sevens team and believes the camp is key for his team’s development.
Showcasing Cook Islands on world stage
“Hong Kong will be a great opportunity for the players to showcase Cook Islands Rugby on the world stage, to play well and to continue our improvement,” he said.
“The camp has delivered some great information through world-class trainers. We have learned what we really need to do to prepare properly for such top-level tournaments. This includes important areas such as nutrition, training regimes and recovery techniques.
“The two-hour daily field sessions have also been great and instilled in us a positive belief along with the technical knowledge we require to improve. One area which we worked hard on was the tackle and contact area and key decision-making post-tackle.”
Cook Islands’ assistant coach and team manager Cam Kilgour added: “The camp has been superb and exactly what we were after in terms of getting time with such excellent specialist coaches. It has been an eye opener in terms of preparation planning and we will use this experience to good effect in Hong Kong and apply it to our draw.
“The players came here wanting to learn and they have enjoyed the coaching which was of a very high level. The players and myself will take this new knowledge back home and pass it on. This is all about development for our future Sevens campaigns and I can’t thank the IRB and FORU enough for this opportunity.”
Click here for Olympic Rugby Sevens qualification process.
Click here for draw for Hong Kong Sevens World Series core team qualifier tournament.
This feature forms part of our Around The Regions series exploring the game beyond its traditional heartlands. Do you have an interesting story to tell about Rugby around the world? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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