Cape Town - Injury woes have created a short-term crisis for the All Blacks Sevens team as they were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Cape Town leg of the World Sevens on Sunday.
The All Blacks Sevens were then beaten by the United States in their Plate match with the United States and Argentina sharing third place on the series ladder on 29 points while England are fifth on 26 and France and New Zealand on 25 points.
It is a troubling time for the New Zealand campaign and coach Sir Gordon Tietjens who is now faced with finding cover for his horrific list of longer term injuries and he will be an interested spectator at the national Sevens next month.
"I have never seen anything like it, it has been like a war zone," he said.
Tietjens said: "The game is brutal in terms of physicality now. The breakdown is obviously an important part, regaining possession or trying to turn over possession and shoulders, knees, ankles which have been the nature of the injuries my players have received is just part and parcel of a physical sport."
Decimated during the opening round in Dubai, more knockbacks occurred in Cape Town where Declan O'Donnell suffered a knee injury that ended his season while Antonio Kirikiri was taken to Cape Town hospital for plastic surgery after suffering what Tietjens said was a terrible cut around an eye.
Compounding the situation is the news that captain Scott Curry's shoulder injury will keep him out of the entire world series. Sherwin Stowers had a rod inserted in his arm and is out for 12 weeks, Regan Ware is out for six weeks, Sam Dickson's shoulder injury has not been fully assessed and Joe Webber's ankle injury will keep him out for six to eight weeks. DJ Forbes ended the South African tournament with a calf injury while Lewis Ormond's bicep injury will keep him out for four weeks. He was hopeful Tim Mikkelson would have recovered from concussion by the Wellington tournament.
Making the recovery tougher for New Zealand is the fact the tournaments have been concertinaed this year due to the Olympic Games.
"There's a lot of rugby players in New Zealand but there is not a lot of Sevens players that understand the game and who are able to compete at that level and who are just not conditioned enough.
"It is going to take these newer players coming in from Super Rugby a while to adjust.
"I did think that Augustine Pulu, who has played his first two tournaments at this level was quite outstanding. He is just growing with the game, is really physical and quite a complete footballer. Another couple of tournaments and he will get right into the mix and be as good as any because he has a great understanding of the game now, he is learning all the time and is very skilful with a beautiful pass and very physical and that is what our game is all about," he said.
New Zealand lost an extra time thriller to Argentina 19-22. Having been tied at 19-19 at the end of normal time it was well into the second half of extra time before a penalty was conceded and Bautista Ezcurra landed a dropped goal from wide out with assurance.
Down on experience again, and losing captain DJ Forbes early in the game the All Blacks Sevens team showed great pluck to level the scores with a minute of normal play remaining.
They responded quickly to Argentina's opening try with Isaac Te Tamaki using his speed to run around his marker in mid-field. But Argentina scored their second just before halftime.
Teddy Stanaway scored just after the break with Beaudein Waaka adding the conversion..
Argentina responded with an unconverted try while Waaka scored the equaliser and added the conversion.
Forbes returned for extra time as both teams applied some determined defence.
But New Zealand's task was made the harder when Te Tamaki was sent off for a dangerous tackle.
"It was a gutsy performance, we had to play a lot of minutes of extra time and I was very, very impressed with the nature of their performance. They didn't give in and we also put ourselves in a position to win that and we had to do it particularly hard with six men. In saying that Argentina put in a good effort and pressured South Africa in the final," he said.
That left New Zealand to face the United States in the Plate competition but for the third successive game, the Americans claimed the win 28-14.
Pulu and Ambrose Curtis scored tries for New Zealand but the Americans had too much say through the middle stages of the game and got out to a 21-point lead with Carlin Isles and Will Holder showing their skills in the win.
With only six fit players it was always going to be tough to compete in that game and there was no chance to use substitutes to their normal effect, he said. The side went into the game with experience of 17 tournaments, with 11 of those tournaments provided by two players.
"It was a really new, inexperienced squad but you can never take that experience away from them. It's pleasing in some ways because you are looking to build depth and grow some players," he said.
Tietjens said the critical phase now would be assessing the injuries and setting in place programmes over the Christmas period ahead of the two camps before the side assembles for the Wellington tournament in late-January.