New Zealand names team for 2014 Canada Cup
Nearly half of the national wheelchair rugby team to contest the Canada Cup in June is made up of New Zealand Rugby Foundation VIPs.
Aucklanders Dan Buckingham, Phil Spring and Tainafi Lefono join Hamilton's Robbie Hewitt in the 10-strong Wheel Blacks team as they look to continue their progression to the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
The June tournament, which will boast several of the world's top 10 sides, serves as a perfect curtain raiser for the Kiwis' main event this year – the IWRF World Championships in August.
Coach Peter Martin believes the Canada Cup is a great opportunity for the Wheel Blacks to put their plays, and players, to the test against quality opposition.
“We get very good at playing ourselves in New Zealand, and sometimes the quality isn't quite there. For the team I just don't think it's realistic to play opposition of that quality and then beat them at world championships, it takes some adjusting to the play when you're under pressure.
“Canada Cup is a big bench mark as far as I'm concerned. It's a great opportunity to get over there and see what we can do with top eight teams and still have time to come back and re-group, asses what worked, and what didn't.
“We'll be able to test some of these more outlandish things we're trying and see if they can work.”
Lefono is one of four 'mid-point' players who Martin believes the pressure is on to pull their weight.
“I need them to be able to take an awful amount of heat and them to step up. Up until now they have needed carrying, it'd be great to put them out there and they can carry their own weight. That's something we really need.”
Canada Cup serves as another stepping stone for the Wheel Blacks towards the 2016 Rio Paralympics, where the Kiwis hope to achieve a podium finish.
“We currently have a world ranking of 10th … [but] there is no doubt within our squad we have some real talent developing, which has yet to show its full potential.
“Our ultimate goal, in this four year cycle, is a podium finish at the Rio Paralympics. [But], as a small sport, with a small player base, with relatively little support, we need our top athletes to strive to perform at their highest level, to be self-driven, self-motivated, in order they achieve their potential.”
Christchurch's Sholto Taylor will co-captain the side with Auckland's Gavin Rolton.
The New Zealand team leaves for the Canada Cup on June 16.
NEW ZEALAND WHEEL BLACKS:
Dan Buckingham (Pt Chev, Auckland), Barney Konoferenisi (Papatoetoe, Auckland), Cameron Leslie (Whangarei), Sholto Taylor (Christchurch), Maia Amai (Pt England, Auckland), Tainafi Lefono (Mt Eden, Auckland), Robbie Hewitt (Te Aroha, Waikato), Adam Wakeford (North Shore, Auckland), Phil Spring (Papakura, Auckland), Gavin Rolton (Swanson, Wellington). Coach: Peter Martin (Waikato).
Article and photo courtesy New Zealand Rugby Foundation