Tietjens hopeful young guns will shine
March 16, 2005

Coach Gordon Tietjens hopes his young side are mature enough to hold out beefed-up opponents at this weekend's World Cup and continue their remarkable eight-year mortgage on world rugby sevens silverware.

Fiji won the World Cup when it was last in Hong Kong in 1997. But since then New Zealand have snared every major prize on offer, including the 2001 World Cup in Argentina, the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medals and this year are set to claim their sixth consecutive International Rugby Board (IRB) series title.

The only three-day tournament in the sport's calendar returns to Hong Kong starting tomorrow and presents the greatest challenge for some time to Tietjens' men.

Chief rivals Fiji and England have stacked their side with a host of professional 15s players or proven sevens stars, while the likes of South Africa, Samoa and Australia have also upgraded to varying degrees.

However, New Zealand are barely changed from the young side who have exceeded expectations by winning three of the four IRB series tournaments this year.

Tietjens was bitterly disappointed when most of the Super 12 players he was entitled to select declined his approach.

However, those thoughts have been heaved to one side as his team prepared in Hong Kong this week.

"We've got to kick along from that. You put those disappointments behind you, frustrations I suppose, and put your belief in the players you've got. I've done that," Tietjens told NZPA.

"They're all proven sevens players now. I didn't want players who didn't want to be here anyway. So it's worked out for the best, I believe, anyway."

New Zealand's most experienced player Amasio Valence wasn't surprised that other leading teams had bolstered their roster considerably from the IRB series.

"It's different from other tournaments. Everyone puts their best team in," Valence said.

"People might underestimate us a bit because we don't have the Super 12 players but these guys have got a lot of ability. There's no doubt the other teams will be a lot stronger though."

Valence said the team ranked the World Cup alongside the Commonwealth Games in terms of prestige. Winning the IRB world series was more a satisfying feeling because it required depth and consistency over a number of tournaments.

England captain Simon Amor, returning from injury, made it clear what his team's priority was this year.

"Winning here has been our main aim for the last year to be honest, so we've targeted this, and that's reflected in the squad picked, and the amount of preparation that's gone into this," he told the tournament's website.

As well as Amor's return, England have called in former New Zealand rugby league player Henry Paul, England international flanker Pat Sanderson, and speedy wingers Ugo Monye and Richard Haughton. The latter was the player of the tournament when England won their third consecutive Hong Kong title last year.

New Zealand assistant coach Eric Rush had his own reasons for concern after overseeing a problem-free buildup to date.

"It's pretty scary actually because usually when we train well we play like shit," he said.

"These guys have been training the house down so I just hope they carry it on. Mind you, this year they trained like that before the Wellington tournament and then played like it."


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