New Zealand wary of Fiji failure
February 1, 2000
New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens said Tuesday he continued to take Fiji seriously for next weekends rugby sevens tournament here, despite the Pacific Islanders failing in a home competition.
The Fijians, co-leaders with New Zealand after the first four rounds in the International Rugby Board's World Sevens series, have strengthened their squad after failing to make the quarter finals in last weekend's Kasavu Sevens.
Three-quarters Fero Lasagavibau and Vili Satala and forwards Jope Tuikabe and Seta Tawake return to the side. Satala was rated one of the best centres in last year's World Cup.
Tietjens, who has bolstered his squad with All Blacks Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen, rated the Fijians as good as the side beaten by New Zealand in the 1998 Commonwealth Games final in Kuala Lumpur and much faster allround than the side that has played in the world series so far.
Fiji and New Zealand are level on 72 points after four rounds of the 10 round world series, with New Zealand edging ahead on a slightly better points differential.
The Fijian hiccup in the Kasavu Sevens, which is not part of the world circuit, came when playing without stars Waisale Serevi and Satala they were held 7-7 by a Marist side in the first knockout round. Marist progressed to the quarter finals because they scored first.
"I wouldn't take too much notice of that loss," Tietjens said in Wellington Tuesday.
"The standard of sevens rugby in Fiji is such that they can field several teams almost as good as each other. The depth is just huge.
"We were in Fiji in 1996 when their national team was beaten by East Fiji, none of whom were in the national squad at that stage."
Tietjens said the Fiji changes have made New Zealand's task much tougher.
"They'll be a strong side, stronger than the side in South America --especially with the experience of Serevi, Fero and Satala. And Tuibake... offers so much in experience.
"Certainly they've boosted the overall pace aspect considerably, and the only one they'll really miss is Marisa Vunibaka."
Vunibaka is a member of Canterbury Crusaders Super 12 side who have refused to release him for the tournament.
Tietjens, who will wait until Friday morning before naming his final squad of 10, has already lost long-serving Dallas Seymour because of a back strain. Tietjens said that was a major loss because of Seymour's experience and partnership with captain Rush.