Fijians the ones to beat, say All Blacks
All Blacks coach Tietjens says series leaders are the team to beat
Ahead of the Singapore leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series this weekend, Fiji are perched atop the 19-team standings after having won three of the seven legs thus far.
On 128 points, the Fijians are five ahead of New Zealand, with South Africa one point further adrift, and Australia (105) the only other team in three digits.
The All Blacks, vanquished opponents in the final of last weekend's Hong Kong leg, insist that the Pacific Islanders are still the team to beat this weekend.
"I would say the Fijian team probably have more depth than any other country in the world," said All Blacks coach Sir Gordon Tietjens, on the sidelines of New Zealand's training session at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) yesterday.
"In terms of sevens players, they have loads of expertise, and they are a very tough team to beat, very tough to crack.
"We saw in Hong Kong how good Fiji are. That is why they are leading the world series now."
Tietjens' thoughts were echoed by 15s World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams, who has not forgotten the 21-7 loss to Fiji in the Hong Kong Sevens cup final last week.
"It was an amazing challenging experience against the Fijians, we got them in Sydney but, last week, they got us. They play different from other teams on the circuit, obviously it's their national sport," said Williams.
The All Blacks edged Fiji 14-12 in the semi-finals of the Sydney Sevens, before beating Australia 27-24 in the final in February.
"They have grown up their whole lives playing Sevens, and they just seem to be there when the ball bounces, they just have a knack of turning up at the right spots," added Williams.
Skippered by Liam Meesam in Singapore, the All Blacks have had a light few days, and Tietjens believes that is the way to go ahead of the weekend's exertions.
"In Hong Kong, we were really challenged. The game against South Africa went into extra time and we were under a lot of pressure, hence the light training week, as our guys have been really under the pump," he said, in reference to the Kiwis' 12-7 win over South Africa in the Hong Kong Sevens semi-finals.
The sweltering heat here is another factor that could favour the Fijians and hurt the All Blacks.
"It was pretty hot out there, it's like playing in the sauna. But the good thing is everyone has to play in the same heat," said Williams.
"The Pacific Island teams will probably have an advantage because over there in the islands, they playing every day, so we'll just have to wait and see."
The Singapore Sevens kicks off at the National Stadium tomorrow.