Kiwis aim high at home
February 7, 2002

New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens is using the example of last year's Hong Kong tournament win to point the way towards a victory in Wellington this weekend, something New Zealand has yet to accomplish in the IRB World Series.

New Zealand was the beaten finalist in the tournament's first year, and knocked out in the quarters last year, both times by Fiji.

This time the gun sides are not drawn to meet until the final - providing they remain unbeaten in pool play. Last year the Fijians were knocked into New Zealand's quarterfinal path because they were beaten by the United States in pool play.

And the United States are New Zealand's first opponents when the tournament starts at Wellington's WestpacTrust Stadium on Friday. A pool play loss would propel New Zealand down the same path as last year.

So Tietjens is hammering home the need to be right on the job from the very start, without over-emphasising the pressures of trying to win the home tournament for the first time.

It has proved difficult to win a home tournament on the sevens circuit. The triumph by the "loaded" Australian side last Sunday in Brisbane was the first time a home side have won a tournament in the 2-1/2-year-old series.

"We're trying to treat this as just another tournament, Tietjens said on Thursday. "But it's not easy. No matter what you say, it's still a tournament in your own country, with extra demands and extra pressures.

"But if we play to our potential I'm confident we're good enough to absorb the pressure and win it. I look at it like this - six of this team were in the starting line-up that won the Hong Kong final last year.

"The only one not there is Johnny Leo'o from Canterbury. These guys won Hong Kong in front of 58,000 people.

"I'm looking for them to step up and perform in a similar fashion. And realistically we're a stronger team, with Amasio Valence, Craig de Goldi and Eric Rush (pictured). They weren't involved in Hong Kong."

Rush, attempting a return to the side, was being put through a rigorous fitness test Thursday morning, including tackling, scrummaging and ball work, to find out whether his shoulder problem has recovered.

"We can't afford to have someone not 100 percent fit in this tournament," Tietjens said.

Fiji, smarting from their quarterfinal loss to Samoa in Brisbane, shape as the dangers, but South Africa, Samoa, Argentina, and Australia are all capable of winning in this tournament - quite clearly the most even yet held in Wellington.

New Zealand (one to be omitted): Allan Bunting, Craig de Goldi, Nick Evans, Jared Going, Tafai Ioasa, Damian Karauna, Ross Martin, Chris Masoe, Hayden Reid, Eric Rush, Karl TeNana, Rua Tipoki, Amasio Valence.

The pools are:

Pool A: New Zealand, England, United States, Papua New Guinea.

Pool B: Fiji, Wales, Canada, Tonga.

Pool C: Australia, Argentina, Cook Islands, Japan.

Pool D: South Africa, Samoa, France, China. - Sapa-NZPA

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