Bay whiz tastes Red Bull Ignite 7s glory
Talented Hawke's Bay rugby inside back Latrell Smiler-Ah Kiong intends to make Sevens his priority.
"It was good to get away from 15s. I felt at home," Smiler Ah-Kiong said as he reflected on his contribution to the title-winning Bolt men's team at the annual Red Bull Ignite 7s tournament in Mount Maunganui at the weekend.
Nineteen-year-old Smiler-Ah Kiong was used as a substitute halfback in all five of the Bolt side's games. Bolt had one loss in round robin play, 19-14 against Inferno. Bolt gained their revenge with a 41-12 victory in the final, a match in which Smiler-Ah Kiong played six minutes.
"It was awesome to play alongside contracted All Black Sevens players like Tim Mikkelson who is New Zealand's most experienced Sevens player. I learned heaps off Tim ... he was unreal.
"This experience has made me want to chase an All Black Sevens contract," Smiler-Ah Kiong explained.
The Bolt team was coached by former All Black loosie and Hawke's Bay Rugby Academy manager Liam Barry.
"Being coached by Liam with all of his knowledge was unbelievable. Being a 19-year-old in his first year out of school I relished his direct guidance and this made a big difference to my game," Smiler-Ah Kiong said.
"In my one-on-one after the tournament I got told the coaching staff was really pleased with my growth and performance throughout the weekend," Smiler-Ah Kiong said.
A member of the Hastings Boys High School 1st XV which won the National Top Four title last year, Smiler-Ah Kiong, was also a world title winner with the New Zealand Secondary Schools Sevens team at the 2018 and '19 Condors Sevens tournaments. His next Sevens tournaments will be with his Havelock North club side at the Club Nationals in Auckland and the Hawke's Bay Sevens in Waipukurau, both in February.
Smiler-Ah Kiong is a son of former Hawke's Bay Sevens rep Herman Ah Kiong and former Hawke's Bay basketball and netball player Cheleme Smiler. He is a grandson of former Magpie Wini Smiler.
The weekend's tournament was the first time contracted New Zealand men's and women's players had played. Herman Ah Kiong said there was so much talent on display both the New Zealand men's and women's teams will be well-served for the next two Olympics at least.
"To be fair Latrell was in a stacked team. But he defended well and distributed well ... everything that was asked of him. It was an awesome weekend and our 11-year-old son [LaDanian] was in awe of the players Latrell was playing with," Herman added.