Ugly didn't do New Zealand's opening day efforts justice as they staggered rather than swaggered into a cup quarterfinal against Australia today.
The eerie quiet resonating from the Kiwi dressing-room as the crowd slouched away to the pubs and clubs summed up the feeling of a team that needs to find their spark if they are to defend the Wellington leg of the IRB World Sevens Series.
They will have to do it without star turn Kurt Baker, who suffered a grade three hamstring strain during the 17-10 win over the United States, news that only increased the scowl on coach Gordon Tietjens' face.
"It was disappointing day for us. Even the third game; I'm disappointed in the way they played and so are the players," he said as he contemplated a first-up loss to England and messy wins over Spain, 36-5, and the United States.
"I can't put our finger on it really, just lacking accuracy and perhaps some of the experienced players are not playing as well as they can. I suppose the positive is the fact we are still in the cup."
Rarely has New Zealand's play been in such stark contrast to the flair and enjoyment in the stands and most surprisingly it was veterans like Tomasi Cama, Lote Raikabula, Tim Mikkelson and D J Forbes who looked most out of sorts.
Tietjens will have told his players to park the first day and start again, but he might also have wanted to wander into a few senior players' rooms last night and make sure they knew exactly what he thinks. "It's the mistakes costing us and crucial errors at crucial times, which is worrying," he said.
"We set pretty high standards and at the moment we haven't met those standards. It's the core group who are very, very unhappy. We have to put it behind us because day two is another day.
"I know the guys will come out [firing]. But we have to play 100 per cent better than we did today."
Sloppy passing and a failure to dominate the breakdown were the ongoing concerns throughout a day that Tietjens put down to rust associated with the long break between the last leg of the series in South Africa.
He might also mull the fact that young charges Rocky Khan, David Raikuna, Lam and Belgium Tuatagloa looked far more hungry and dangerous than his first-choice men.
It was a day of upsets that highlighted the increasingly competitive nature of rugby's abbreviated game, and New Zealand needed second-half tries to Cama and Ben Lam against the USA to reach the knockout phase.
A first up 19-14 loss to England meant the Kiwis finished in the unfamiliar position of runners-up in Pool A, but they were far from alone in struggling on an entertaining day.
Fiji failed to emerge from Pool D, shock losses to Scotland and Australia, meaning the perennial powerhouse did not reach the quarterfinals.
Scotland was the main beneficiary, through to play England in the first quarterfinal with impressive Samoa against Argentina in the second.
New Zealand and Australia will kick off at 3.17pm before unbeaten Kenya play a South African side who needed a count-back to advance ahead of Canada and Wales in Pool C.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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