We want to win it for Christchurch

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am

New Zealand are determined to win the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens for the people of Christchurch, said coach Gordon Tietjens, as the 2011 edition becomes an emotional rollercoaster in the wake of a series of natural disasters.

'We would love to win Hong Kong for the people of Christchurch,' Tietjens said. 'We are representing our country and Christchurch is a big part of it.'

To mark the tragedies that have hit Christchurch and Japan, a minute's silence will be held before the Cup final at Hong Kong Stadium on Sunday.

'There will be a minute of silence before the Cup final as it was felt it would be the best time to respect what has happened,' International Rugby Board [IRB] Sevens manager Beth Coalter said.

'The stadium will be at its busiest and it will give everyone an opportunity to take a moment to reflect and give our thoughts to those who have suffered, and continue to suffer.'

As Mexico make their debut, becoming the 49th country to take part in Hong Kong, all eyes will be on the battle for supremacy at the top of the HSBC Sevens World Series between New Zealand and England.

New Zealand, with just five players from last year - skipper DJ Forbes, Lote Raikabula, Tomasi Cama, Tim Mikkelson and Toby Arnold - go in search of victory to give hope to their countrymen.

'If it meant winning Hong Kong for everyone in Christchurch, then we are going to give it everything,' Tietjens said. 'They have been through some tough times and it will still be really tough for a few years yet.

'They are a great rugby fraternity. They get right behind their teams and behind each other, and if we can do that as a Sevens team and win Hong Kong it will certainly be for those people in Christchurch.'

The presence of the red-mopped and red-booted Declan O'Donnell and other first-timers like Frank Halai will inject the team with 'youthful energy and enthusiasm' which Tietjens believes will give his side an edge.

England, who share the top spot with the Kiwis on 80 points, will be in the hunt for a first Cup title since they won four on the trot from 2002 to 2006 (Fiji won the 2005 World Cup Sevens).

Ben Gollings-led England have a settled look, having been together since the Commonwealth Games last year, and can again count on most crowd support.

Ollie Lindsay-Hague, who helped England win the opening leg in Dubai, returns to the side after injury and with players such as James Rodwell and Mat Turner - two of eight contracted to play sevens by the RFU - they are a huge threat.

A victory in Hong Kong is a must if England are to realise their ambitions of winning the series for the first time.

Fiji have done that already. For them, the motivation at their home-away-from-home is more simple - money.

For the first time, the Fiji Rugby Union has agreed to give 50 per cent of any prize money won to the players (in the past it was ad hoc and not more than 20 per cent).

And with the Cup winners set to receive US$100,000, that should be inspiration enough.

'Yes, this will be a huge incentive for the boys,' Fiji coach Iliesa Tanivula said. 'But the bigger picture is still about winning points in the series.'

In Fiji, sevens is supreme. The sevens players are contracted to the union and not the 15s players bound for the World Cup.

They get about 5,000 Fiji dollars (US$2,500) for a season. Compare this to what is in store if they win the Cup on Sunday and Seremaia Burotu and company will be charged up.

Having recalled four players, including the French-based duo Setefano Cakau and Osea Kolinisau, for a bid to win an 11th Hong Kong Sevens title (they also won the Sevens World Cups here in 1997 and 2005), Fiji pose another threat.

Samoa will be missing last year's IRB Sevens Player of the Year Mikaele Pesamino but they have loads of experience in Uale Mai, Lolo Lui, Ofisa Treviranus, Alafoti Fa'osiliva and Simaika Mikaele and will be determined to kick-start their campaign to defend both their Hong Kong Sevens and World Series crowns with a first win this season.

The other major threat will come from South Africa, winners of the last leg in Las Vegas, but who have strangely never won in Hong Kong.

Spearheaded by this season's leading try-scorer, Cecil Afrika (22 tries), they hope to break the duck.

'We have come close on three occasions but never got over the line. Hong Kong is special for all of us, and we will be hoping we can keep our momentum from Las Vegas going,' coach Paul Treu said.