NZ Sevens out to take back Wellington ground
New Zealand's sevens team will be out to take back more than just its home title at Westpac Stadium this weekend.
A year after a lacklustre opening night in Wellington, Gordon Tietjens' side finds itself in the unusual situation of playing second fiddle in the capital.
New Zealand remain favourites at the TAB, but it is South Africa who have wind in their sails heading into round five.
The Blitzbokke are leading the IRB world series standings after beating New Zealand in the final in both Port Elizabeth and Las Vegas.
Moreover, they have beaten their Sanzar rivals five times in succession and appear to be a side on the rise.
"They've been pretty consistent in the world series, which I guess is where we've dominated [in the past] and credit to them," New Zealand captain DJ Forbes said yesterday. "They've been there [in the final] at the end of three tournaments [out of four] and won the last two, so for us it's a little bit different going in chasing a leader, so to speak."
Tietjens is champing at the bit to have another crack at South Africa and if both sides top their pools and advance, they will be on a collision course for the cup final tomorrow night.
That in itself will no easy task for New Zealand considering their first match is against a Fijian side containing the series' two leading tryscorers in Samisoni Viriviri and Benito Masilevu.
Last year in Wellington New Zealand looked tired in losing to England in pool play before being knocked out by Kenya in the semifinals.
The senior playing group of Forbes, Lote Raikabula, Tomasi Cama and Tim Mikkelson will not want a repeat of the headlines that suggested they were showing their age.
They will want to stop South Africa's momentum, one captain Kyle Brown said was born of a desire to emulate New Zealand.
"It's seizing the moment," Brown said. "When you are playing against the All Blacks it brings out the best in any team. If you want to be the best in the world you have to beat the No 1 team that's been there for so many years.
"Our guys are young, but very mature in sevens and they are enjoying that moment of being out against a team as good as New Zealand."
South Africa's strength lies in the mixture of nippy players such as Cecil Afrika, Branco du Preez and Justin Deguld and hard workers including Brown, Werner Kok and Chris Dry.
Forbes wasn't getting caught up in a head-to-head rivalry, but will not want to be answering the same questions on Sunday morning.
"I hope if anything it will add a bit of motivation, but it's a long series and we can't get to caught up with one point [on the ladder]," Forbes said. "It's a long series and as far as we're concerned this is a perfect destination to try to turn it around."
Cama's return to assist Gillies Kaka in the playmaking role, the introduction of Akira Ioane and the return of Sherwin Stowers and Ben Lam will make New Zealand hard to beat.
Though the venue is unlikely to be sold out, Forbes made it clear the tournament means as much as ever to his side.
"Here's hoping on the day it's a full house, but we're pleased with anyone in the stadium - we'll play in front one man and his dog, we just want to wear the black jersey."