In partnership with the HKRFU
Tietjens’ men ‘more than hungry’
The message was loud and clear. New Zealand are 'more than hungry'. This was the missive mastermind Gordon Tietjens had for the rest of the pack snapping at New Zealand's heels. They would all have been hoping the latest setback to the defending champions - they lost vice-captain Lote Raikabula to injury before a ball was kicked - would have put the favourites' campaign in disarray.
That was hardly the case, said Tietjens, who was forced to call up sevens novice Jack Wilson to replace Raikabula, who suffered a knee injury.
If losing the season's leading try-scorer, Frank Halai, and Hong Kong Sevens veterans Toby Arnold and Solomon King before arriving in town wasn't bad enough, the men in black again showed they have strength in depth.
'When you think of losing Lote, Toby [Arnold], Solomon [King], Frankie [Halai], it's massive. But what this has done is given the opportunity for the others to dig in and show what can be achieved. It certainly has made us even more hungry to win,' Tietjens said.
Wilson hasn't played sevens at all this season and was in Hong Kong for the GFI HKFC Tens at Hong Kong Football Club this week.
He will have big boots to fill as Raikabula has been a tower of strength in past teams, and was a key component in New Zealand's plans to stretch their lead at the top of the world standings.
But despite an edgy opening game against the United States, Tietjens stayed positive.
The 29-5 win might have looked convincing, but the Kiwis were pushed all the way. Tietjens described it as a 'useful exercise to find our feet'. It was meant both literally - on a slippery So Kon Po pitch - and metaphorically.
'We know it is a tough tournament to win. We have to do well tomorrow and get through unscathed [from injury] until the knockout stages,' Tietjens said.
'We have two tough games remaining in our pool, and I expect both to go right down to the wire.
'It will be up another level, certainly for the younger players who lack experience but they have the rugby composure and they enjoy and love this sort of pressure,' he said.
'Today was all about finding our feet and getting our patterns right. We haven't played together since Las Vegas [early last month] and it is a different side and I guess it showed at times.'
New Zealand were ahead by three tries at half-time and leading 17-0 with newcomers Lolagi Visinia and Mark Jackman and veteran Tim Mikkelson all touching down. But the Americans hit back immediately after the break through Zach Test to close the gap.
'It was a worrying game in some ways, the first game always is,' Tietjens said. 'Just after half-time they scored and we were lucky that we scored straight back again. If they had scored again, it would have been game on and that's what can happen - it's going to happen in all the games.
'In the past we had an easy game where we could skip away by 40 points, but not anymore. It was tough and considering that, it was a good result for us.'
The rest of the pack in the sixth leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series also got off to winning starts. Everyone just wanted to get the first game out of the way with their self-belief intact.
Fiji, England, South Africa, Samoa, all of whom are breathing down New Zealand's neck in the world standings all emerged victorious on opening night.
But it was close all the way with the new-look tournament offering a stiff test, even to the top teams.
South Africa defeated Wales 10-0, leaving coach Paul Treu a relieved man that the first obstacle was out of the way.
'You can't expect any easy games,' Treu said. 'We came here and didn't expect things to be any different. Wales have come here off their 15s team's Six Nations win, so their confidence was always going to be up.'
'But it was a huge defensive effort from our boys. Our discipline for the game was excellent. I think we only conceded one penalty. But just the way we worked back to make those game-saving tackles, I am just really pleased with it.
'I just wanted to get the game under the belt. Our last competitive game was in Vegas more than a month ago and we had to manage a few guys who came back a bit injured and to then get them ready for this tournament,' Treu said.
It was that sort of a mood on opening night for the big boys - relief at having got the first game out of the way unscathed.