Olympics-Rugby-‘Naive’ New Zealand adapt to COVID protocols in Tokyo
New Zealand coach Clark Laidlaw expects an open contest in the fight for gold in the Rugby Sevens competition at the Tokyo Olympics and says his team have adapted to the COVID-19 restrictions in place at the Games.
TOKYO: New Zealand coach Clark Laidlaw expects an open contest in the fight for gold in the Rugby Sevens competition at the Tokyo Olympics and says his team have adapted to the COVID-19 restrictions in place at the Games.
The All Blacks are among the favourites to top the podium in the men’s competition that runs from Monday to Wednesday, but Laidlaw admits New Zealand’s national success in preventing the spread of the virus has left it “COVID-naive as a country”, and restrictions have been an eye-opener for his players.
They had a taste of what to expect in the Oceania Sevens competition that was staged in Townsville, Australia last month, where they finished second behind unbeaten Fiji.
“It feels a little bit surreal for all of us under these circumstances, but we are looking forward to getting started on Monday,” Laidlaw told reporters.
"I guess we've been COVID-naive as a country. It was good to practice wearing masks (in Townsville) ... so it now has no impact on training at all.”
New Zealand performed poorly in the 2016 Olympics, losing two of their three pool matches, including a shock 14-12 reversal against Japan, and were knocked out in the quarterfinals by eventual winners Fiji.
Laidlaw expects better this time round but admits it will be a hugely competitive few days.
“I genuinely think there could be a (surprise) team that could make the quarter-finals or maybe even a semi-final. You look at the competition, any team could win it," he said.
“We've only got 12 teams, not 16 (like in the World Series), so it becomes hugely competitive and for a team like Japan (being at home) will be a huge advantage for them. Maybe not having crowds could actually help as they can just go out there and express themselves.”
Co-captain Tim Mikkelson says the side are ready to put behind them the disappointment of five years ago and believes they have done all they can to be ready.
“The Olympics is the pinnacle and we want to enhance what we've been working towards and have got huge belief,” he says.
“The way we've been going over the last four or five years, I think this team is as ready as it has ever been to perform.”
New Zealand will open their Pool A campaign against South Korea on Monday, before meetings with Argentina and Australia.
(Reporting by Mayu Sakoda; Editing by Stephen Coates)