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Saturday March 24, 2012

NZ and Fiji impress at Hong Kong Sevens

HONG KONG: Series leaders New Zealand and closest rivals Fiji both got off to strong starts as the sixth leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series got underway in Hong Kong yesterday.

Defending champions the Kiwis cruised through 29-5 against the US, enjoying an explosive start with an early try by Mark Jackman, followed-up quickly by another from Solomon King who capitalised on careless fumbling by the Americans.

“We’re pretty happy, pretty satisfied,” said New Zealand’s coaching supremo Gordon Tietjens, at the helm for 18 successful years.

“It’s the first game, we’re finding our feet and getting used to playing together because we haven’t been together since Vegas,” Tietjens said, referring to last month’s leg in the US when the Kiwis lost in the final after a stunning late try by Samoa.

Blocked: New Zealand’s D J Forbes (right) is tackled by Folau Niua of the US during their match at the Hong Kong Sevens yesterday. — Reuters

“It’s a really tough town to do well in and we have two tough games that will go right down to the wire,” the Kiwis coach said as he looked to his next matches in the pool against other traditional powerhouses South Africa and Wales.

The Welsh looked out of sorts in their opener, failing to score a try against South Africa to go down 10-0.

This year’s tournament, which runs until tomorrow, doubles as a qualification event to identify three new teams to participate in an expanded 15 core team world series next season, meaning the 12 core teams have been bunched into three tough Pools A to C.

“It’s the hardest tournament to win and they’ve made it even tougher by splitting the pools,” said Fiji’s new coach Alifereti Dere after his side romped to victory 39-5 in their opener against a feisty but eventually fruitless Scotland.

The new format, and the special intensity of the Hong Kong atmosphere, were all factors to take into consideration, Dere said, after his side overwhelmed the Scottish defence.

“It’s a tough day from day one. We can witness the crowd is already here. From day one it is full... it puts a lot of pressure on the players.”

It was an especially proud day for the coach, who captained the Fiji side to victory in Hong Kong in 1990, beating New Zealand in the final.

“It’s my first experience (as coach). I’m a bit nervous and I think I am about to go forward,” he said, looking around at the multi-coloured, fan-filled stands of the 40,000-capacity stadium.

Fiji’s next opponents France struggled in their opener against Australia, buckling under the attacking pressure to lose 31-10.

In Pool A Samoa took on crowd-favourites Kenya and worked hard for their 19-7 win.

In the last match of a first day that saw hoards of neatly-dressed school children mingling with beer-guzzling expats in fancy dress, England beat Argentina 19-10 in a close match.

Today Wales will try to get back on track against top opponents New Zealand, while Fiji take on France, and England clash with Samoa. — AFP

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