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Million dollar target

Friday, August 08, 2014

New Zealand are reportedly setting aside $NZ2million ($F3million) in a bid to achieve their goal of winning gold medals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

The money will be used so that high-profile All Blacks like Sonny Bill Williams, Liam Messam and Cory Jane will be able to commit to New Zealand's 7s program without losing out financially.

It is believed that although a definite amount has not been finalised yet, close to $2m is being viewed as a realistic budget.

According to a report in the New Zealand Herald, if players want to withdraw from Super Rugby participation in 2016 to play sevens then the New Zealand Rugby Union will have to pay their salaries and their respective franchises, who must then bring in replacements.

There have been negotiations between the NZRU and the franchises for several months about releasing players for the Olympics.

The NZRU released their four-year vision in 2012 in which defending their World Cup title, in the 15-man game, and winning two gold medals at the Olympics were their main goals.

Contracted Super Rugby players are unable to play sevens but this won't be the case in 2016 as the NZRU wants every player, who want to play the abbreviated game, to be available for Olympic selection.

New Zealand could use a horses-for-courses policy where players will be advised to skip the Super Rugby tournament in 2016 depending on their age, profile, skills and sevens experience.

Others will be able to concentrate on sevens closer to the Olympics.

Chiefs CEO Andrew Flexman said the franchises are supporting the sevens cause and there is a principled agreement that they (the franchises) would not prevent a player from trying out for the Olympics.

"Within reason, we are broadly supportive of the bigger goal of winning gold medals at Rio," he told the New Zealand Herald.

"We need to have a more detailed discussion about the detail of compensation and a few other issues. We have to be mindful the Olympics coincide with what will be the first year of a new format of Super Rugby.

"I don't think we want the first edition to be marginalised by too many players opting for sevens. There is a balance to be struck."

Flexman said Williams made it clear that he wanted to play sevens at the Olympics when he signed his contract to return to the Chiefs in 2015 while Messam has also indicated that he wants to do the same.

New Zealand's recent loss to South Africa in the final of the Commonwealth Games — their first ever defeat since sevens' introduction at the Games in 1998 — has, once again, brought player availability into the spotlight.

NZ Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens called for All Black reinforcements only hours after his side's loss to the Blitzbokke in Glasgow.

"I've sent out a huge wishlist to all the players I consider could be real contenders to go to the Olympics," he said.

"They will make a decision as to whether they want to be considered and, if they do, then in that year, sevens becomes the priority."

Apart from Williams, Messam and Jane, Tietjens' wishlist is likely to include Ben Smith, Charles Piutau and Julian Savea, all with 7s experience.

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