Big guns New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji fire warnings to rivals as battle hots up
It was all about putting down a marker for the next two days for the big boys yesterday. Like kings of the jungle, New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji - the top three teams in the IRB Sevens World Series - came out with the intention of marking their territory and letting all and sundry know that 'Hong Kong is our tournament, we rule it'.
'The first day is all about setting your standards for this tournament,' said New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens. 'It doesn't matter what level of opposition you are playing, you go out wanting to be as accurate as you can and you have to be accurate to put 50 points on the board.'
New Zealand overcame Taiwan 59-5 and Samoa shrugged off a more physical Italy 33-12 as the top two teams in the IRB Sevens World Series standings jockeyed for the psychological high ground. Fiji then wiped out Thailand 79-5.
While New Zealand looked a well-oiled machine, Samoa started sluggishly as they led Italy 12-7 at the break before turning on the gas in the second half with the experienced Uale Mai marshalling his troops superbly.
'Perhaps we were still feeling the effect of last week [Adelaide Sevens] but the boys didn't switch on right away,' said unhappy Samoan coach Stephen Bentham.
Samoa have won the last two legs of the IRB Series and are aiming to extend that record to a first-ever hat-trick of titles this week.
Top try-scorer in the series, Mikaele Pesamino, was subdued in the first half, and it was only after the break that he extended his tally of 39 tries when he dotted down for number 40.
Pesamino was soon taken off, but by then Samoa had found their groove and soon ran in three more tries to finish comfortable victors.
'While I am unhappy with certain aspects of our game, like conceding two tries, what matters is the win,' added Bentham.
'We are just happy the first game is out of the way and despite some mistakes, we still are on track.'
With defence being such a key aspect of the modern sevens game, it was no surprise that Kiwi skipper DJ Forbes was also a trifle disappointed that his team had allowed Taiwan's Wang Kuo-feng to cross the line.
'We are happy we put up a few points, but we pride ourselves on our 'D' [defence] and we are disappointed in letting through that one try. But we did a lot of good things good,' Forbes said.
And he echoed his coach Tietjens when he added: 'Today was all about doing the small things right. We just want to put everything into place as we look ahead to tomorrow and then the knockout stages.'
New Zealand are missing two key players in Hong Kong - Lote Raikabula and Sherwin Stowers - but despite more than two-thirds of the squad appearing for the first time, they were quickly into the flow.
New speed sensation Save Tokula showed he will be one to watch as he grabbed two of his side's nine tries in an accomplished first-up performance which left Tietjens a satisfied man.
'It is a good confident start and that's what we wanted in a first game with new guys in the team,' Tietjens said.
It will be hard to see New Zealand piling on half-a-century against France or Scotland, their remaining pool opponents, but if they play like they did against Taiwan for the rest of the tournament, Tietjens will be a happy man.