Tietjens: Sevens balance of power has changed

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 04/02/2013
Horace Otieno
Photosport
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Kenya's brave, brave run in Wellington was no flash in the pan and New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens says fans should get used to the changing face of world sevens.

Never before have New Zealand fans seen their side pushed so hard in pool play during its home leg of the IRB World Series tournament.

The Kiwis were beaten by England and bustled by the United States in pool play, then dumped out by losing finalists Kenya 19-14 in the semifinals.

Though Tietjens' men will head to Las Vegas still 21 points clear of Kenya at the top of the series ladder, he believes the weekend's action should change people's perception of the world circuit.

"It doesn't happen that way any more and it's right around the world now," he said when asked if the days of easy passage through pool play were over. "You look at some of the teams that have battled over the weekend and you look at Fiji, the country that probably has more players in the world in sevens rugby than anyone. To go into the bowl for the first time ever, that was a shock to everyone.

"We are fortunate we haven't been in that situation yet. Touch wood it doesn't happen, but you can be pretty close. You look at our last game last night [Friday night] against the USA, it could have easily been another close loss like we had tonight [Saturday]."

There is little doubt the inclusion of sevens in the 2016 Olympics has taken the game to another level and that the chasing field is now gathering pace on the perennial powerhouses.

New Zealand notably could not dominate the breakdown in Wellington as they have in the past, even against minnows like the US and Spain.

Full-time, contracted sevens specialists are now stronger, faster, and younger than in previous years and forwards such as D J Forbes and Lote Raikabula can no longer bully their opposites at the tackle where the crucial possession stakes are decided.

It was noticeable that New Zealand looked sharpest when youngsters Gillies Kaka, David Raikuna, Belgium Tuatagloa and Rocky Khan had the ball in their hands.

A study of this year's results confirms Tietjens' words, with the regular blowouts of old few and far between through the opening four rounds. In Wellington Fiji lost to Australia, Scotland and Canada, while Kenya beat South Africa and New Zealand before losing to England in a memorable final.

The close results were not an aberration. In Australia there were only two matches where one side scored 40 points or more, in South Africa only one and in Wellington none.

In Dubai only one match included a score over 30, New Zealand's 31-14 win over Russia.

Portugal have reached the Cup quarterfinals twice, the US once, while France were second on the series log heading into Wellington.

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And things get no easier for New Zealand as they head to Las Vegas today minus Kurt Baker (hamstring) and Forbes (knee).

Tietjens has called in Mark Jackman (Canterbury) and Milford Keresoma (Auckland), both contracted sevens players.

New Zealand's failure to reach the final in Wellington has pitched them into a tricky pool with Argentina, France and Wales.

New Zealand lead the standings on 77 points, ahead of Kenya (56), Samoa (54) and Fiji, France and South Africa (51).

- The Dominion Post

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