Rugby sevens: Sydney's the ideal stopover

By Kelly Exelby

On the face of it, it's an ill-conceived exhibition with nothing riding on it that has the potential to seriously derail New Zealand's defence of their IRB world series sevens crown.

But national coach Gordon Tietjens didn't hesitate when offered the chance several weeks ago to take his world series-leading team on a quick-fire trip across the ditch to Sydney to play the Australian sevens team.

The teams meet on Sunday in a curtain raiser to the Super Rugby clash between the Waratahs and the Crusaders at Allianz Stadium in Sydney in an exhibition match to help celebrate the Waratahs' theme of transtasman rivalry.

Tietjens lost vice-captain Lote Raikabula leading up to the recent Hong Kong sevens, with playmaker Tomasi Cama also out of the next tournament in Tokyo, joining a hospital ward that already included Frank Halai, forward Solomon King, Scott Currie and utility back Toby Arnold.

With several of the injured available again, Tietjens said yesterday this week's squad camp at Mt Maunganui and the trip to Sydney was a welcome chance to assess everyone's fitness.

"Any match-up against our transtasman neighbours is a great occasion and although the game against Australia is only a one-off, it fits in well with what I want to do leading into the last two legs of the series (in Scotland and England).

"There are guys that haven't played for quite a while so this is valuable game time to see where they're at and I don't select my side for the last two tournaments until after this weekend's game, so players are playing for positions. It couldn't have worked out any better."

Despite a third-place finish in Tokyo, the worst result of a consistent season for New Zealand since losing in the quarter-finals in Dubai in round two, New Zealand still lead the series on 128 points, a narrow six points clear of Fiji.

South Africa are third on 105, one ahead of England and four clear of Samoa in fifth.

Tietjens' full squad assembled in Mt Maunganui on Tuesday, with Bay of Plenty's Jack Wilson and Waikato's Joe Webber and Johnathon Malo also brought in for the Australian game.

They underwent fitness and speed testing on Tuesday afternoon and yesterday morning before inter-squad games at Blake Park.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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