New Zealand, Fiji to resume rivalry in Wellington
New Zealand will kick off the Wellington Sevens against Fiji in what shapes as a testy rematch of their controversial showdown in Las Vegas.
Coach Gordon Tietjens' side will not lack for motivation at their home tournament after losing the final and their IRB world series lead to South Africa at the end of an eventful three days in Sin City.
New Zealand's recent history of heartbreak in the United States continued with a 14-7 loss to South Africa yesterday, the fourth time the Kiwis have lost the final in Las Vegas.
South Africa were worthy champions and when Scott Curry scored early in the final it was just the second try they had conceded over the three-day tournament.
It proved to be the last.
Branco du Preez levelled the scores at 7-7 on the stroke of halftime and when Gillies Kaka overcooked a lineout after the break Werner Kok was over in the corner for the winner.
But the low-light for Tietjens' men came on day two when two players, George Tilsley and Sam Dickson, were cited and then suspended following a physical 12-7 pool win against the Fijians.
Dickson was subsequently banned for nine matches for reckless contact with Fiji player Emosi Tuitoga's eyes late in the second half, while Tilsely received a two-match ban for a tip tackle and missed New Zealand's 26-7 semifinal win over Canada.
Though there is no bad blood between the sides, matches between New Zealand and Fiji have been highly charged affairs of late.
The Pacific Islanders embarrassed the Kiwis 44-0 in Dubai, while New Zealand's win in Vegas dumped Fiji out of the cup draw before the knockout stages.
The rivalry will continue on Friday week in Wellington where New Zealand have been drawn in pool B along with Fiji, France and Spain.
Tietjens first priority will be picking his squad.
The injured trio of Tomasi Cama, Sherwin Stowers and Joe Webber face fitness tests, while teenager Akira Ioane comes back into contention.
Ioane, 18, could be Tietjens' trump card in the capital after missing the Vegas tournament due to complications with his visa and would be a neat replacement for Dickson's physicality and skill.
The squad for Wellington will not include Dickson with Tietjens confirming there would not be an appeal despite the belief his actions did not justify a citing, let alone a lengthy suspension.
"I've reviewed the footage and had a look at it. I feel for the guy [Dickson]. He's never been the aggressor at any stage as a rugby player. He couldn't even recall the incident that's how low-end it was quite honestly."
Television footage suggests the Cantabrian unintentionally raked his hand across Tuitoga's eyes as the pair wrestled on the ground.
"From what I saw he was on the ground trying to look after himself. The penalty's been given and we just have to punch on really," Tietjens said.
An appeal was considered, but would be futile.
"Quite clearly they state within the IRB that anything around the face if you are involved in an incident you can receive a suspension of 12 weeks onwards.
"I suppose when you look at the footage in slow motion his hand is around the face trying to free himself. I know there was never any intent from Sam Dickson because I know the boy that well.
"If they did reduce the sentence, they only get reduced a couple of matches and we'd only have him for a couple of matches in Wellington."
Tietjens had no problem with the two-match suspension handed to Tilsley in the same match, but the entire squad were shocked by Dickson's punishment.
"Sam's is the one we thought wouldn't go anywhere near the suspension he got. We didn't think he'd be suspended to be fair."