England tough start for Kiwis at Sevens

Last updated 05:00 01/02/2013
Gordon Tietjens
HARD TASKMASTER: New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens.

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Start as you intend to finish. It would be a fitting message for coach Gordon Tietjens to deliver to his charges ahead of the 14th edition of Wellington's annual IRB sevens tournament.

Tietjens' men have every reason to be confident ahead of the fourth round of the world series after reaching the cup final in Australia and Dubai, then winning last time out in South Africa.

That's given New Zealand a healthy lead at the top of the ladder and the old guru has yet again unearthed some young talent to mix around the DJ Forbes-led core of his squad at Westpac Stadium.

But this is sevens, a game where a moment of complacency can undo even the most fancied side, and in England, New Zealand have more than a tricky start to their home tournament.

"It's the hardest tournament to play in some ways, but the most enjoyable," Tietjens said.

"There is a lot of pressure on the side and we'd love to win it and make it three in a row.

"We've done particularly well in the past two seasons, but the game is getting closer every year. There are a lot more teams who are more competitive.

"England first up is going to be pretty tough but hopefully it will set the tone for us in the tournament to play well."

Although England are in the midst of a rebuilding phase in sevens and have had only modest results this season, they traditionally play well in Wellington and welcome back speedster Mat Turner, a genuine match winner.

Winning first-up is important in Wellington where younger players can be over-awed by the colour and hype in the stands and lose focus.

Beat England and New Zealand will have the luxury of finding their first day rhythm and confidence against their other two pool A opponents, newcomers Spain and the United States.

First day injuries are common and rookies like Rocky Khan and Gillies Kaka can suddenly find they are key men come the business end of the tournament.

The New Zealand-USA match will bookend the first night's action and if American speedster Carlin Isles can get some space it could be an entertaining finish.

Although playmaker Tomasi Cama continues to be the central cog in Tietjens' team, the return of Manawatu's Kurt Baker to the sevens fold has added greatly to the side's potency.

Baker was a legitimate star when he first appeared on the sevens scene but has languished a little in 15s due to injury and form and he missed out on a Super Rugby contract this season.

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That's been big for Tietjens' side and expect Baker to feature heavily over the next few days and possibly be called into the Crusaders for Zac Guildford in coming weeks.

The current New Zealand team features a physical forward pack with Forbes, Tim Mikkelson, Lote Raikabula and teenager Luke Masirewa all in the mix.

But look for big, raw-boned Canterbury openside Sam Dickson to surprise with his pace and power.

In the backs Ben Lam and David Raikuna are strike weapons, while Wellington's Belgium Tuatagaloa and Gillies Kaka have X-factor and Rocky Khan nifty footwork.

Tietjens is coy on how his side will play.

"The game's changing all the time. It just depends on the players you have, the ammunition you have and the strike players. I think I have a pretty good side, a good balance of players.

"I've got some pace and power and some experience which is really important playing in Wellington."

Fiji, always a chance and with five newcomers, and Samoa, including returning veteran Lolo Lui, shape as perhaps the greatest threats to New Zealand.

- The Dominion Post

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