NEW Zealand will start the Hongkong Sevens with a depleted squad after the withdrawal yesterday of Samoan Lalani Koko. The Kiwis, who have been beaten by Fiji in the past three Sevens finals, will head for Hongkong with only nine men, one fewer than permitted in the tournament rules. But coach Peter Thorburn does not feel it will affect his side's chances of winning a fourth Sevens but their first since 1989. Thorburn said last night: ''Koko has decided to make himself available for Western Samoa rather than New Zealand because he perceives he would not become an All Black at 15s. ''Western Samoa have a very busy year coming up and he wants to be part of that. He is a very deep sort of a person and I didn't speak to him about it.'' Despite the setback, Thorburn will not be replacing Koko in his squad for Hongkong. ''I think nine players will be enough,'' he added. ''On the first day you give everyone a run in the two group games and on the second you're into the knockout stages so you pick your strongest side. ''The players were not picked lightly and are starting to adapt to the style we want to play.'' Koko, who has played for Samoa in Hongkong previously, was one of four Samoans in the All Blacks' 10-man squad, which was announced after the New Zealand national sevens at Palmerston North on Sunday. The other three Samoans are Hongkong Sevens regular Pat Lam, All Black centre Frank Bunce and flanker Junior Paramore. Paramore represented Samoa in last year's Sevens and was named in their 10-strong squad on February 19 before being given the chance to play for New Zealand. Despite rumours in New Zealand that Paramore had returned to the Samoan squad yesterday, Thorburn said the tough-tackling forward would be with the Kiwis in Hongkong. Although Koko will not be replaced for the Hongkong Sevens, which will take place on March 27-28, Thorburn said he would be adding one more player to the squad for the first World Cup Sevens at Murrayfield, Scotland, from April 16-18. A New Zealand B team, including previous Hongkong Sevens representatives Terry Wright, Graeme Bachop and Paula Bale, will play in the Fiji Sevens on March 20 and Thorburn said one of the players on duty there would be called up. The Kiwis will leave New Zealand on March 20 and have a full week in the territory to prepare for the tournament. There are only four survivors from last year's squad - forwards Lam, Dallas Seymour and Eric Rush, who will captain the team, and versatile back Glen Osborne, their best player on his debut last season. The Hongkong team, meanwhile, leave today for the Canberra Sevens in Australia on Saturday. Coach George Simpkin has been forced to make one change, with Valley's Simon Litster replacing Tigers' Steve Burton, who is in hospital with a mystery viral illness. Hongkong play Fiji and Queensland in the 12-team Canberra Sevens, which will be played in four pools of three before breaking down into Cup, Plate and Bowl tournaments. The Hongkong Sevens weekend could be used for top-level talks on rugby union's experimental ruck-maul law - if Geoff Cooke, the England team manager, can co-ordinate a coaches' meeting. Cooke wants coaching representatives from the eight founder members of the International Rugby Football Board to sit down together so that the views of those at the sharp end of the international game can be presented to the board's annual meeting in April. The experimental laws affect the line-out and possession following a ruck or maul and several coaches - notably Bob Dwyer, from world champions Australia - have indicated their disquiet.