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One look from selectors took trainee sparkie Rokolisoa to Sevens stardom

By Adam Julian
Akuila Rokolisoa of New Zealand reacts to scoring a try during the Men's Cup Semifinal match between New Zealand and South Africa on Day Two of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series - Dubai at The Sevens Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Christopher Pike/Getty Images)

Akuila Rokolisoa has little trouble finding his way into highlights.

The dazzling All Blacks Sevens playmaker was the leading points scorer in the HSBC World Sevens Series last season with 415 points as New Zealand won five of 11 tournaments and a 14th overall title.

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Rokolisoa was nominated for World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year and scored 44 tries, just three short of the All Blacks Sevens single-season record held by Karl Te Nana.

The humility of Rokolisoa is striking when asked what his personal highlight was.

“The Sydney Sevens. We won and only conceded four tires. Joe Weber drives the defence and that whole tournament everyone was into the system. Working hard for each other is what this team is all about,” Rokolisoa told RugbyPass.

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Winning five tournaments in a season was New Zealand’s best effort since seven victories in 2001-2002.

What underpins the All Blacks Sevens’ uniquely selfless culture?

“Understanding each other, our unique individual cultures, sharing what we each go through, what motivates us, and fighting for what we love like family,” Rokolisoa responded.

“Our biggest opponent is us. The way we train, what we do at home, the more we do to get better, the tougher we are to play.”

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Innate ability helps too. Rokolisoa moved from Fiji to New Zealand in 2005. He attended James Cook High School and was a rugby league player for the Manurewa Marlins. He had little awareness of Sevens but was captivated by the little he saw.

In 2018, while training to become a sparkie, he was invited to play for Counties Manukau at the National Sevens. It was the only look National selectors required.

“It’s a bit surreal looking back. I was contacted by Clark Laidlaw saying I was needed, but I didn’t get a contact.

“I played for the development squad and then I got picked for the Commonwealth Games in Australia where we won the gold medal,” Rokolisoa reflected.

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“My first World Series event was in Dubai. I got injured in the warmup. That was a special tournament though because we won it with nine players.

“It’s a huge honour representing New Zealand. There have been so many proud moments.”

Rokolisoa has won the World Series twice and gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup.

He shares much in common with All Blacks Sevens coach Tomasi Cami, the 2012 World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year.

“Tomasi is pretty similar to me. We share the same culture. He’s taught me to play what’s in front, and how to be a good professional. He’s helped me with analysis and vision on the field.”

The All Blacks Sevens will have to have their wits about them if they are to successfully defend their World Series title.

For the first time since the inception of the competition in 1999, the series will be contested under a new model and name.

The HSBC SVNS features seven regular-season events plus a Grand Final.

The top eight placed teams based on cumulative series points at the conclusion of the seventh round in Singapore will secure their opportunity to compete in the new ‘winner takes all’ Grand Final in Madrid, where the women’s and men’s HSBC SVNS 2024 champions will be crowned.

Argentina was second place last season winning three tournaments.

The Pumas threat looms large. They boast Marcos Moneta (106 tries in 122 games) and World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Rodrigo Isgro.

Fiji, South Africa, and Australia are perennial contenders while Samoa and Ireland are vastly improved. Does Rokolisoa like the new format?

“I don’t know about that one. Maybe I prefer the old format because that’s what I know,” he said.

“It’s a bit niggly but it doesn’t stop us from turning up and doing our job every tournament.”

The All Blacks Sevens have won the Dubai Sevens six times and are grouped with defending champions South Africa, Samoa, and Canada.

Pool A – All Black Sevens Head-to-Head

South Africa: 62-36

Canada: 42-3-1

Samoa 59-21-2

 

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J
Jon 6 hours ago
British & Irish Lions free agent open to Super Rugby switch

There are a couple of teams who could use a stop gap experienced head. Blues - I’m not sure the Blues have signed a replacement for Caleb Tangitau (if he hasn’t been let go to make room for Barrett) yet, or whether Reiko is going on sabbatical and/or will remain in the squad. With exciting young French player Xavi Taele looking destined for higher honors in black, talented breakthrough rookie Cory Evan’s, and a couple of utilities, in AJ Lam and Bryce Heem(even Clarke?), all trying to learn the midfield trade, Williams could be a great aid. The Blues signed key English center Joe Marchant before he was raised to that level, and were possibly in the hunt to bring back the dependable Tele’a from the Highlanders. Possible the main squeeze which would put to bed any signing here would be the battle at 10 with Beauden’s return, and the forcing of Plummer back into the midfield. Hurricanes - Jordie Barrett is off to Leinster for a sabbatical next year but the more likely signing would be Billy’s brother back in the team. The Hurricanes are light on the outside with the loss of Salesi Rayasi to the Top 14 and if no quality is found to back up Kini Naholo, the midfield of Sullivan or Proctors could find themselves on the wing and space for a leader to show the Hurricanes three All Black midfield hopefuls (Higgins, Proctor, Umaga-Jensen) how its done. Highlanders - Rotation is high as usual at the Highlanders and versatility remains a strength with a lot of the squad. With compatriot Rhys Patchell signing a move to the JRLO, the passing of outside back Connor Garden-Bachop, and confirmed departure of Argentine wing Martin Bogado, the versatility of many of the young backups in the squad could see a veteran 12 like Williams being a strong partner for the robust Tele’a. With hope that the other Umaga-Jensen brother can force him out of the starting lineup, and shifting the sides general Sam Gilbert back into 10, the off-contract midfielder might seen as the perfect option for a squad still looking to fill one back spot.

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