Waikato name an exciting squad for New Zealand Nationals

Waikato name an exciting squad for New Zealand Nationals

New Zealand Sevens team star Tim Mikkelson has not been released and big forward Rory Grice is still recovering from an ankle injury but Waikato Sevens coach Roger Randle is excited by the lineup he will take to Queenstown this weekend. Randle has named a strong looking 12-man squad for the National Sevens Tournament on Saturday and Sunday to be captained by former national team player Save Tokula, who returns after a couple of years' absence. The team was finalised on Sunday after Waikato were beaten in the final of the Bay of Plenty Invitational Sevens by Auckland at Mt Maunganui. So difficult was the final selection that in the end the Waikato captain for the last few years, Steve Ketu, missed the cut.

New Zealand Sevens team star Tim Mikkelson has not been released and big forward Rory Grice is still recovering from an ankle injury but Waikato Sevens coach Roger Randle is excited by the lineup he will take to Queenstown this weekend.

Randle has named a strong looking 12-man squad for the National Sevens Tournament on Saturday and Sunday to be captained by former national team player Save Tokula, who returns after a couple of years' absence.

The team was finalised on Sunday after Waikato were beaten in the final of the Bay of Plenty Invitational Sevens by Auckland at Mt Maunganui.

So difficult was the final selection that in the end the Waikato captain for the last few years, Steve Ketu, missed the cut.

With Matt Vant Leven, who was Fraser-Tech's forward of the tournament at the Waikato club sevens championship, released from the Chiefs' wider training group for the tournament and AJ Tuhoro in fine form this season for the Waikato side, the remaining forward positions went to young national squad member Luke Masirewa, Joe Scheres and Josaan Levien, the latter three edging out Ketu.

"It was a pretty tough one to pick and unfortunately a couple missed out," Randle said yesterday.

Randle said Mikkelson was regarded as one of the "big four" in the NZ Sevens team by coach Gordon Tietjens, along with DJ Forbes, Tomasi Cama and Lote Raikabula, and as a result had not been released for the national tournament.

All four played big minutes in the world series tournaments before Christmas and were being rested prior to the Wellington Sevens next month.

"And Rory Grice was unfortunately just a couple of weeks short of full fitness after an ankle injury. Before Christmas we had him and Timmy in our mix."

Randle said they could have taken an extra forward to accommodate Ketu but then would have had no room for Jono Malo as back-up halfback behind vice-captain Kylem O'Donnell.

"In terms of the mix it didn't quite fit and the other guys deserved their spots."

Malo and Robertson are the only players returning from last year. Robertson, Tokula, Semisi Masirewa, Nanai Naturaga and Kane Adams are the other backs.

"Save has been playing well for us and is just a wise old head I suppose."

Waikato won the northern regional qualifying tournament to reach the nationals and after following that up with second placing in the Bay tourney, beaten 20-12 by Auckland while trying out various combinations, Randle is excited by his team's prospects in Queenstown.

But he said the key, as always, was getting through pool play where Waikato are drawn to play Northland, Southland and Manawatu in that order on Saturday.

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"You can't look past there because there's no finals day if you can't get past the group stage."

Randle said Northland had been building well and had a camp last week, so would be tough first up, while Southland had reportedly been training hard and had a couple of exciting young players.

"A lot of people always look too far ahead and you can't afford to do it in sevens," he said.

Meanwhile the Waikato women's team were sweating on the fitness of Chyna Hohepa ahead of the nationals. She missed last weekend's Mt Maunganui tournament, which Waikato won, and coach Reuben Samuel expected to find out at last night's gym session whether Hohepa would be available.

Older sister Carla Hohepa was due to fly in from Japan, where she is based with her rugby-playing partner Karne Hesketh, today to rejoin the team after playing in the regional qualifying tournament for them.

With Auckland giving the Bay tournament a miss last weekend to avoid injuries, Waikato took the chance to gain some valuable game time for players and combinations and beat Counties Manukau in the final.

Waikato will play all five other sides - Tasman, Canterbury, Manawatu, Taranaki and Auckland - in Queenstown with the top two sides from the round-robin meeting in the final.

Waikato Men's Sevens team: Matt Vant Leven, AJ Tuhoro, Kylem O'Donnell (vc), Semisi Masirewa, Glen Robertson, Save Tokula (c), Luke Masirewa, Nanai Naturaga, Jono Malo, Joe Scheres, Josaan Levien, Kane Adams.

Waikato Women's Sevens team: Azania Watene, Carla Hohepa, Chelsea Alley, Chyna Hohepa/Ariana Hira-Herangi, Crystal Kaua, Francea Hansen, Honey Hireme, Jordon Webber, Racqual Anderson, Teresa Te Tamaki, Victoria Grant, Brittany Coates.