New coach, new culture part of All Blacks Sevens' rebound from Rio failure

When the All Blacks Sevens capitulated at the Rio Olympics, change wasn't a maybe - it was a must.

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An exit in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Olympics left Clark Laidlaw facing a big rebuild. Source: 1 NEWS

New Zealand's gold medal hopefuls were knocked out at the quarter finals, leading to a coaching and culture overhaul that has led the team to World Cup and Commonwealth Games gold.

However, the biggest test of all for the new culture and coach Clark Laidlaw is still to come in Tokyo but those past mistakes will help.

“We have talked about Rio” Laidlaw told 1 NEWS.

“Certainly  the start of this year and previous years we’ve talked about how we prepared for that tournament.

“There’s some gaps around preparation and some of the off field stuff around how tight the group was so we’ve addressed that.”

Laidlaw's overseen a resurgent team since 2017 however their performance is only part of the story.

“I feel like we are on the same page as a group of players where potentially we might not be been before,” Kurt Baker said when comparing this year’s team to the 2016 Rio squad.

“We'll obviously find out at the Olympics whether it’s going good.”

The comradery is a result of a very deliberate effort to create a culture where people don't want to leave.

One example; yearly connection camps where talk is prioritised over training, allowing players and staff to be vulnerable and ask questions like, “who am I and what's my why?”.

“We know a lot about each other on and off the field and I think that helps when it comes to this point in a year,” Baker said.

“We're really tight, probably too tight some days with the amount of fun and banter they give each other,” Laidlaw added.

The proof also lies with players such as Caleb Clarke who have come back.

Despite the good vibes, Laidlaw knows another failed Olympic campaign could cancel out all that work.

“There’s always expectation,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter if you’re coaching Taranaki under-16s, Hurricanes or Sevens - the expectation to play well and win is always there.

“But I’d far rather that than think you can win and nobody really cares.”