World Sevens moves on to Malaysia
April 21, 2001

New Zealand and Australia have strengthened their seven-a-side teams for the upcoming rugby tournaments in Malaysia and Japan, despite the southern hemisphere¹s rugby 15's season also getting into swing.

Underlining the growing importance of the International Rugby Board World Seven Series, the two southern giants appear to have sat up and taken more notice than they did this time last year, when squad strengths dwindled as the 15's season took priority.

Even South Africa wanted to add talented Golden Lions fly-half André Pretorius to their sevens team, but a knee operation has prevented it.

For the Malaysia Sevens in Kuala Lumpur this weekend, New Zealand Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens has brought back hard running forward Craig de Goldi and Canterbury Crusaders¹ utility back Rico Gear.

Injury meant de Goldi, a regular forward with Tietjens throughout last year¹s successful IRB campaign, missed out on a trip to the IRB World Cup Sevens in Mar del Plata, Argentina in January.

The 23-year-old Gear has not played for the New Zealand Sevens team since the first two rounds of the inaugural series in 1999, but he has tasted success in Kuala Lumpur before as a member of the gold medal-winning squad at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

He has been released for the two tournaments after not being required for the Crusaders two-game trip to South Africa.

But Tietjens isn¹t under any illusions of the task ahead.

"It¹s difficult because I have lost two very important players that contributed to our win in Hong Kong - Jared Going and Hayden Reid," Tietjens said.

"The main strength of the team is the combination of my players, they play well together because communication is very good. They are also good at retaining possession on the ground."

The impressive forward combination of Johnny Leo¹o and Chris Masoe has won the Kiwis a lot of ball in this series.

After five tournaments, the Kiwis lead the series with 86 points, but Australia are hot on their heels with 82 points following wins in Wellington and Shanghai.

Fiji, who amazingly have not won a tournament anywhere since the Japan Sevens more than a year ago, lie third with 80 points.

Australia¹s coach Glen Ella admits that the series is getting more exciting as the lower teams are coming up and pulling off one or two shock results.

The United States beat Fiji in Wellington, while Korea knocked off Samoa, Canada and Argentina on their way to a semi-final finish in Shanghai.

"There¹s a lot of pressure for the next two legs," Ella said. "I think we have a slight advantage over some of the teams because we have been able to keep the core of the team together since the start of the circuit."

The former Wallaby fullback has recalled New South Wales winger Matt Dowling, who was desperately unlucky to pick up an ankle injury during training in Mar del Plata three days before the World Cup.

Dowling was one of Australia¹s bronze-medal winning team here at the Commonwealth Games three years ago.

Ella also has speedster Matt Isaac back from injury after he had strained his groin just before the Hong Kong Sevens.

The heat and humidity factor in Kuala Lumpur should favour the Fijians, Ella believes, joking that there probably isn¹t enough room in Australia¹s cabinet at the moment for the elegant crystal trophies put up for grabs by the sponsors.

As for Fiji, new coach Tomasi Cama has picked an even younger squad than he had in Hong Kong, where they fell 29-5 in the final to New Zealand.

Injuries to Vereniki Waqa, Atu Vunivalu and Jovesa Matakasa see Nasinu youngsters Isikeli Ratulevu, Naca Cawanibuka and Peni Matairakula join the squad for their first taste of national duty.

Navy player Alipate Kotoisuva, meanwhile, fills in for the 1m97 forward Semisi Naevo who opted out in the hope of securing a 15s contract in New Zealand.

And World Cup star Rupeni Caucau returns from suspension to replace Waisake Bole on the wing. Caucau¹s red card in the Wellington Sevens final in February ruled him out of Hong Kong and Shanghai.

"Our pool is not an easy one," Cama said. "With Argentina and Korea in good form, we¹ll need full concentration."

Cama added that half-back Saula Rabaka is a doubtful starter with a boil on his knee, while speedster Fero Lasagavibau has a stomach bug.

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