Samoans 'must lift their game'
Hat-trick hunting Samoa, the hottest team on the IRB Sevens World Series, have their work cut out to win the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens, coach Stephen Betham says.
Betham was an unhappy man last night after Samoa surprisingly conceded a brace of tries to both Russia (24-12) and Argentina (21-14) in their final pool matches.
And if the team with the best defence win the Cup tonight - which is the mantra of New Zealand mastermind Gordon Tietjens - then Samoa will have to lift their game to add Hong Kong's silverware to their titles in Las Vegas and Adelaide.
'We are not playing well enough to win,' Betham admitted last night. 'A win is a win and I will take it, but we can only lift the Cup if we are switched on when we come back tomorrow. We have the ability and the fitness, but it will all boil down to our mindset on the day.'
Samoa, who are two points adrift of IRB Sevens Series leaders New Zealand, are seeking an unprecedented third title in a row, as well as chasing the US$100,000 purse for the Cup winners.
They will need leading try-scorer Mikaele Pesamino, who took his season tally to 42 with a brace against Russia, as well as powerful ball winners Ofisa Treviranus, Simaika Mikaele and Alafoti Fa'osiliva to be on top of their game.
Samoa will face the United States in the Cup quarter-finals, a rematch of the final in Adelaide last weekend which they won comfortably, 38-10. If they get past the Americans, they will come up against either Australia or England.
The bottom half of the Cup line-up will see defending champions Fiji take on South Africa - a rematch of last year's Cup final in Hong Kong - while the last quarter-final will be between New Zealand and Kenya.
'Defence will win the day,' Tietjens said. 'We know missed tackles can cost you, and if we get our defence in order and make those tackles, we are in with a chance of going all the way.'
New Zealand will be hoping try-scoring threat Save Tokula will be on song as they bid to consolidate their hopes of winning a ninth IRB Sevens Series crown. Two more legs remain after Hong Kong - in London and Scotland this summer.
New Zealand, with newcomer Kurt Baker looking in ominous form, defeated France 36-0 and then held off a combative Scottish team 22-5 to finish unbeaten in their pool.
Tietjens said: 'I was happy with our performance against France but we were a bit lazy on our 'D' [defence] against Scotland. We also lacked accuracy. But the good thing is we are not giving away many penalties.'
Last week in Adelaide, New Zealand conceded a raft of penalties - 22 - including six in the quarter-finals against Samoa that led to an early exit. Tietjens will have drilled into his team the importance of not giving away penalties, or at least being seen to be squeaky clean.
Crowd favourites England, marshalled superbly by evergreen skipper Ben Gollings, will get the chance to avenge a loss to Australia (in the pool stages in Adelaide) when they meet in the last eight.
'We are in the mix and this is where all the fun starts,' England coach Ben Ryan said. 'Last year Fiji won the tournament coming in as the best second-placed team after the pool competition. I'm sure there will be lots of twists and turns tomorrow.'
Ryan, who claimed England were the dark horses, was happy his young team finished the pool stages with three wins - 45-0 over Hong Kong on the opening night, followed by Japan (45-0) and Wales (26-5) - and also came out unscathed.
'I'm pretty pleased with how the guys are playing. They all came through injury-free and we rested Dan Caprice, who had a bit of a knock on opening night,' Ryan said.
'We are playing Australia, and they beat us last week and they are favourites. There are a lot of good teams out there and I'm still hanging on to the dark horse tag. We are fifth in the world standings and that is where we are, going into tomorrow.
'All we need is the luck of the bounce. I want the boys to wake up feeling good. Last week in Adelaide, all Cup quarter-finals were decided on the last play. It's exciting stuff and sums up what the world series is like now. Any side can win on the day. We will give it a good crack.'
Australia, who are enjoying an excellent season, swept into the quarter-finals with good wins over Tonga (33-12) and Canada (36-12). It will be a bruising encounter against the old enemy.
'We still haven't played the perfect game by any means,' coach Michael O'Connor said. 'But we're through to the quarter-finals and I am very relieved. There are probably six teams good enough to win and I think if we get the right breaks, be injury-free and get the referee's decisions and bounce of the ball, we have a side good enough to win it.'
It's a sentiment all the quarter-finalists share. And, as England coach Ryan said, the fun starts today.