Serevi-less Fiji still a force - Tietjens

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 March, 2001, 12:00am

New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens has played down the absence of Fijian maestro Waisale Serevi, saying it would not affect Fiji's chances too badly at this weekend's Credit Suisse First Boston Hong Kong Sevens.

'What people have to remember is that Fiji has a huge amount of depth and talent. Everyone plays the game over there and they just have stacks of talent,' said Tietjens.

'Fiji will be tough competitors once again this year,' added Tietjens, who arrived with his 12-strong squad late on Saturday night.

Australian counterpart Glen Ella has stated that the absence of Serevi - dropped by Fiji's new coach Tomasi Cama - and the injured Kiwi legend Eric Rush would give the Aussies their best ever chance in more than a decade of winning the Hong Kong Sevens.

However, Tietjens warned that his young New Zealand team would be competitive too. 'It is one of the least experienced sides I have brought to Hong Kong. The players' average age is around 21-22. Most of them have played in just one tournament.

'We played very well against Fiji in Wellington and were just half a metre away from beating them. There was extra pressure from the crowd and I thought the team handled it well. They will be competitive in Hong Kong,' said Tietjens.

New Zealand and Australia are in joint-second place, four points behind leaders Fiji in this year's World Sevens Series standings. With Hong Kong, the fourth leg of the series, offering 30 points to the Cup winners, Tietjens is aware that a win here would leave them in a sound position.

'Hong Kong is the number one tournament for us and the players are certainly aware of its importance. They will be determined to do well and I have every confidence in them.'

In the absence of Rush, who broke his leg against England in the preliminary round of the World Cup Sevens in Argentina in January, Tietjens will pin his hopes on captain Karl Te Nana.

'Karl commands an enormous amount of respect from the other players and he's also a great sevens player. He captained the side in Argentina in Eric's absence and helped inspire a win. He's got a lot of confidence and he is great at getting the other players to play at their best,' said Tietjens.

Apart from Te Nana, the only other survivors from last year, are Damian Karauna and Jared Going. New Zealand are drawn with France, the Arabian Gulf and hosts Hong Kong in the preliminary round.

As always, the Kiwis were the first of the 23 overseas teams to arrive in town. But the early birds saw their hopes of having a serious training run yesterday dashed by heavy rain.

The weather also severely disrupted the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's Sevens road show at Times Square and saw the final of the local Country of Origin tournament being cancelled.