Rugby: NZ close in on another record

By Daniel Gilhooly

Another record looms into view for the rampant New Zealand sevens team going into this weekend's International Rugby Board tournament at San Diego.

Having made history last week as the first team to win the opening three tournaments of an IRB series, coach Gordon Tietjens' men are now on track to beat their own record for consecutive games won.

If they reach the final at PETCO Park on Monday (NZ time) they will eclipse their winning streak of 34, set in the 2001/02 series when the likes of Eric Rush, Amasio Valence and Karl Te Nana were starring.

Given their form at Wellington last weekend, where they swatted aside all opponents before squeaking past a game Samoa 22-17 in the final, the record is under serious threat.

Certainly Wales, Scotland and France should provide few problems in pool play on Sunday and, on current form, only Samoa, Fiji or South Africa are teams capable of upturning the apple cart.

The New Zealanders have endured cool weather but a problem-free buildup since arriving in California on Tuesday.

Tietjens was anxious his players maintain their high fitness levels, something he said allowed them to keep a level head when they trailed by five points midway through the Samoa final.

"Their fitness levels are so extreme that they can always come back, it won't be easy for any team," Tietjens said.

"It was a measure of the conditioning of the guys to finish so well.

"And they're pretty close, they're a pretty unified bunch and they were never going to give in.

"Our forwards are pretty cool and composed when it comes down to the contact area, which is really important."

Size is a key attribute of the current squad, with their biggest player out wide in the form of 108kg game-breaking winger Victor Vito.

The Wellingtonian starred against Samoa with two memorable tries, the first a breath-taking 60m effort and the second a matchwinner in the final play.

Vito, 20, fended off the hype surrounding him since the tournament, anxious to put his head down and perform for a coach he had quickly grown to admire in his first year of sevens.

"When you're a new guy coming into the team you're quite daunted by the fact it's Gordon Tietjens," Vito said.

"But he really does take you under his wing and lets you know exactly what he wants. He doesn't leave you with any illusions.

"You always know where you stand with him and I think it's great to have a coach who is so straight up."

Of interest this weekend will be the efforts of minnows Mexico, Chile and the West Indies, infrequent performers at this level.

New Zealand sevens team:
New Zealand squad: DJ Forbes (captain), Victor Vito, Israel Dagg, Rene Ranger, Zar Lawrence, Lote Raikabula, Tomasi Cama, Nigel Hunt, Steven Yates, Tafai Ioasa, Solomon King, Edwin Cocker

Pools:
Pool A: New Zealand, Wales, Scotland, France
Pool B: Fiji, Samoa, Australia, West Indies
Pool C: Argentina Kenya, Canada, Chile
Pool D: South Africa, England, United States, Mexico

Standings:
New Zealand 60, Fiji 36, South Africa 32, Samoa 26, Argentina 20, England 14, Australia 14, Kenya 12, Scotland 12, Tonga 12, Wales 8, United States 6

- NZPA

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