Kiwis favourites in Chile
January 3, 2002

New Zealand are hot favourites to strengthen the defence of their World Sevens crown as the second of 11 rounds of the IRB World Sevens series gets underway on Friday.

The All Blacks are expected to add to their victory in the opening leg in Durban in November, but the two-day 16-nation competition should be packed with excitement, especially in a treacherous-looking Pool C which includes South Africa, England, France and likely whipping boys Uruguay.

However, the fast and furious Sevens game is finding interest hard to come by in soccer-mad Chile, with organisers confirming that ticket sales have been disappointing. South Africa are the bookies' favourites to win Pool C, but the France v England tie should prove a classic scrap.

France's Sevens do not have the same potency as their feared 15-a-side outfit, but if they are beaten in the opening match by South Africa, their destiny could hinge on their performance against old enemy England.

New Zealand, who snatched a controversial 19-17 victory over Manu Samoa in the final in Durban, should ease past Canada and Paraguay, though Wales may have a say in the outcome of Pool A.

New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens has more experience in his latest squad than the side that retained the World Sevens crown earlier this year.

The availability of Auckland pair Orene Ai'i (pictured) and Amasio Raoma Valance for the rest of this season's tournaments has boosted Tietjens' side.

In Pool B Australia should punish both the United States and Brazil though Argentina, beaten 19-14 by Manu Samoa in sudden-death extra time in the quarter-finals last time out, may prove worthy opponents for the Wallabies.

Host nation Chile face Durban runners-up Samoa, Fiji, and the West Indies team made up of players from Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and Bermuda. - Sapa

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