NEW Southland men’s sevens rugby coach Dan Cavanagh has been busy assembling an experienced group to potentially give this year’s national tournament a good shake.
Cavanagh has jumped from the assistant coach’s role after previous coach Damien Pine stepped down.
Cavanagh started working with a small group on October 1 and said they now had a 20-plus squad in place in preparation for the South Island regional qualifier on December 1.
Last Saturday, 12 players headed to Balclutha for what was effectively a two-hour live training session against Otago.
Cavanagh said Otago arrived with a much bigger squad and he was pleased with the way the Southland team kept fronting during the session despite the heavy workload.
“I was proud of them, it was really encouraging actually,” he said.
The outing did, however, come at a cost, with key player Henry Earland picking up an injury which would likely rule him out of the regional qualifier as well as the nationals next month if Southland progressed.
Cavanagh had worked hard to try to add sevens’ experience to the mix this year in a push for better results and to also aid the progress of the younger players in the group.
It includes Stags outside back Lewis Ormond, who was part of the New Zealand sevens team which attended the 2016 Olympics.
Fellow Stag Tauasosi Tuimavave was also expected to be a key asset for Southland’s sevens team this year.
Costa brothers, Nico, Ignacio, and Rodrigo are unavailable for the South Island regional qualifier this month but would come into contention for the nationals.
The trio have previously played a lot of sevens in Auckland.
Cavanagh also brought in Adrian Curry and Daniel Iosefo as assistant coaches – both experienced in playing sevens.
Curry is the brother of New Zealand sevens captain Scott Curry and played a lot for Manawatu.
A Southland club sevens festival competition was introduced this year, but just four teams took part.
Included was the St Peter’s College school team which was preparing for the national schools tournament.
Cavanagh said he was impressed with what the St Peter’s College team produced and as a result he included four of the team in the Southland sevens men’s training squad.
Fraser Ditchfield impressed that much Cavanagh was now considering lining the schoolboy up in the South Island qualifier and nationals.
Blues outside back Brad Kooman had been another to impress Cavanagh.
He believed Kooman could take on the playmaker’s role.
Kooman played for the New Zealand under-20 team at this year’s Youth Touch World Cup and now was showcasing his footwork and skills in the sevens arena.
The next hit-out for the Southland men’s team will be in Oamaru this weekend, when it will take on Otago, North Otago, Canterbury, South Canterbury and Mid Canterbury.
The focus will then turn to the South Island qualifier in Timaru on December 1, with the goal to qualify for the nationals. The nationals this year will be played on the December 15 and 16, instead of the traditional January date.
There is also a new location this year, with the nationals moving from Rotorua to Tauranga.