x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Anesi set to return to place he made his name

Sosene Anesi is likely to return to Dubai, where the All Black's international career first took flight, for next month's World Cup Sevens.

DUBAI // Sosene Anesi, the All Black who battled back from a career-threatening neck injury, is likely to return to the place where his international career first took flight for next month's World Cup Sevens. Anesi, who plays for Waikato Chiefs, was one of two Super 14 contracted players named in New Zealand's training squad, ahead of the trip to the UAE next month. He was one of the outstanding players at the 2004 Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, where he scored seven tries to mark himself out as a player of rich promise. Anesi's star ascended sharply from there, and he debuted for the full All Blacks side against Fiji in 2005. He appeared to be the latest prodigy sent off the production line by New Zealand's coaching kingmaker, Gordon Tietjens, who numbers Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen among his former students. However, he suffered a chilling reality check when he fractured his neck in the second round of the 2007 Super 14 season against the Wellington Hurricanes. The Samoa-born winger actually played on at first, not realising the severity of his injury and later admitted another knock could have resulted in paralysis. During his subsequent lay-off, the New Zealand Rugby Union had to provide home help for him, so limited was his movement. The other Super 14 player, Victor Vito, is also familiar with Dubai. He captained the Baby Blacks to the final of the IRB Under 19 World Championship at the Exiles, and made his IRB sevens bow at the same venue last season. Tietjens has opted to select two relatively low-profile Super 14s players, to avoid the problems he encountered ahead of the last World Cup.

Then, as now, he was given permission to select senior All Blacks, only for a variety of established stars, like Joe Rokocoko, to turn down his approach. "For this year's tournament, we took the approach of asking players to advise us of their interest in being considered for the Rugby World Cup Sevens," said Tietjens. "We then spoke to all the coaches about those players and how selection for the sevens might fit within the Super 14 season." DJ Forbes, the captain, features in the training squad despite missing the last leg of the IRB Series through injury. The long-serving duo Edwin Cocker and Solomon King, plus the in-form newcomer Tim Mikkelson, have all missed out due to injury.

pradley@thenational.ae