Lull for Kiwis before storm
NEW Zealand are happy, so are Australia. Western Samoa aren't - and no-one knows how Fiji feel going into the final day of preparation for the Hongkong Sevens.
The Kiwis were the first team to arrive in the territory last Saturday and are the first team to finish their preparation.
After five sessions at King's Park, coach Peter Thorburn has given the players the day off to relax.
Under the captaincy of the dynamic Eric Rush, the Kiwis include five new faces in their nine-strong squad and the presence of Junior Paramore in the forwards and Frank Bunce in the backs has really toughened them up, particularly in defence.
They knew they needed to change their style after being blown away in last year's final and they feel they have found the right mixture of poise and power.
As for Australia, who have not appeared in the final since 1989, captain Michael Lynagh was looking confident and relaxed yesterday and said today's session at Happy Valley would be a light workout.
Samoa, the traditional dark horses who never quite fulfil their potential on the second day of competition, could meet New Zealand in the semi-finals.
But the Samoans may have to do without their experienced Hongkong Sevens campaigner, Lolani Koko, who was confined to hotel quarters yesterday afternoon with a leg infection as his teammates trained against the American Eagles at Happy Valley.
Yesterday morning he visited the doctor, who said he would not be fit to play until Sunday at the earliest - although the 29-year-old forward may defy doctor's orders and have a run against either Japan or Thailand in Group E tomorrow.
Fiji, who are aiming for a fourth consecutive title, remain the team to beat.
Their training session at Stanley Fort yesterday was fast and furious, with the sombre figure of Paula Bale, a two-time Kiwi at the Sevens, prowling out on the wing.
Their coach, the large, smiling figure of Ratu Kitione, was polite to well-wishers but insistent there would be no interviews and no photographs until after Saturday's games.