New Zealand and their former coach had opposing experiences on the opening day of the Wellington Sevens.

While the home side survived a couple of scares to complete pool play with a perfect three-from-three record, Sir Gordon Tietjens saw Samoa fail to record a victory in the coach's first tournament in charge.

New Zealand, having parted ways with Tietjens following a disappointing Olympic campaign, hardly stamped their authority on their home tournament but did enough to seal top spot in their pool.

But any weaknesses exposed, particularly in tough victories over France and the United States, will surely be tested in tomorrow's quarter-final against Fiji.

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The Olympic champions may be missing a few of the heroes who led them to gold but they impressed today before falling to series leaders and favourites South Africa. That left Fiji second in their pool and sent them on the collision course with New Zealand, though the hosts' position atop their pool was hardly guaranteed.

A day that began with a comfortable victory over Samoa in their reunion with Tietjens ended with the All Blacks Sevens needing to overcome a halftime deficit and a yellow card to Tim Mikkelson in their clash with the United States.

They managed to do just that, potentially unearthing another star in the process, with 18-year-old Vilimoni Koroi showing why he was so highly regarded.

The teenager played for the New Zealand secondary schools team last year, displaying enough talent to earn a contract with Otago. And that talent was evident in the first half against the US, with Koroi's speed and tackling technique seeing him score one try and save another in a matter of minutes.

New Zealand still trailed 12-7 at halftime and were playing a man short, after Craig Joubert handed out a questionable yellow card, but Mikkelson soon returned to the field to cross the line and Isaac Te Tamaki grabbed a brace to seal a 24-12 win.

Interim coaches Scott Waldrom and Tomasi Cama would have been pleased with their side's conversion of opportunities in the second half, having struggled in that facet during a nervy 21-14 win over France.

ROTORUA DAILY POST | Sport
27 Jan, 2017 3:20pm
3 minutes to read

*****

ALL BLACKS SEVENS TRAIL AT THE BREAK

New Zealand have a fight on their hands if they wish to secure a third win on the opening day of the Wellington Sevens.

The United States have taken a 12-7 lead into halftime of tonight's final match, posing enough threat to be good value for their lead.

After the Americans were the first to cross, promising youngster Vilimoni Koroi showed great speed to create space and level the game. Moments later Koroi produced a try-saving tackle at the other end as the All Blacks Sevens seemed set to head to halftime with the match level.

But after Craig Joubert gave Tim Mikkelson two minutes in the bin with a questionable penalty, Danny Barrett scored in the corner to put his side back in front.

*****

BLITZ BOKS CONFIRM FAVOURITSM

South Africa have shown why they currently lead the World Sevens Series, proving too strong for Fiji to clinch top spot in pool B.

The Blitz Boks, who won the first tournament of the season before finishing runner-up in the second, ran out 31-12 winners in a showdown between two sides who could very well meet again in tomorrow's final.

To advance that far, Fiji will have to win their quarter-final against the top finisher in pool C - which currently looks like being New Zealand. Unless the United States upset the All Blacks Sevens in the final match of the day, kicking off at 9.02pm, the home side will be facing the Olympic champions tomorrow afternoon.

Elsewhere, England beat Kenya 31-12 to take top spot in pool A, with Argentina crushing Papua New Guinea 41-14 to finish as runner-up.

*****

SCOTLAND SEE OFF WALES TO REACH QUARTER-FINALS

After the dinner break that followed the second round of matches, we are now into the last set of games in pool play.

That began with Canada's 29-0 victory over Russia, completing a perfect day for the North Americans and consigning their opponents to last place in pool D. The following match was a battle for the runner-up spot in that pool and saw Scotland ease past Wales 31-7 to claim a place in the cup quarter-finals.

And we have just seen Australia beat Japan 33-12 and finish their day on a high note, earning their first win in pool B. Now favourite South Africa and Olympic champions Fiji will clash with top spot in that group on the line.

Following that, there will be three more matches before New Zealand's last game, against the United States at 9.02pm.

*****

ALL BLACKS SEVENS BATTLE PAST FRANCE

New Zealand have maintained a perfect record at the Wellington Sevens but they were made to work hard for it by a determined French side.

After waltzing past Samoa in their first game of the day, the All Blacks Sevens battled to a 21-14 victory over France, surviving a late resurgence from the opposition.

New Zealand increased their 14-7 halftime lead early in the second half, with Sione Molia finding some space on the left touchline and showing too much pace for the French defence.

But France monopolised possession through the second half and eventually found their way over the try-line, making it a seven-point match with one minute to play. But the home side hung on and, while they weren't as impressive as in their opening win, will play in the cup competition tomorrow.

The All Blacks Sevens' final pool encounter will be against the United States at 9.02pm, the last match of the first day. The Americans drew 21-all with France in their first game before easily beating Samoa.

*****

NEW ZEALAND SEIZE HALFTIME LEAD

The All Blacks Sevens have taken a 14-7 lead to halftime of their clash with France, looking to take a second win today.

New Zealand took an early lead through Rocky Khan, who showed great speed to race away 50 metres after Sherwin Stowers made half a break. Stowers then scored his side's second from a well-worked scrum move, putting the crowd favourites right on top.

But France pulled one back right before the break, giving themselves some hope heading into the second half.

*****

SAMOA SUFFER SECOND LOSS

After being thrashed by his former teams in his first game in charge, Sir Gordon Tietjens' tournament didn't improve in Samoa's second clash.

Tietjens' side lost 24-12 against the United States, leaving them set to finish last in their pool today. The United States led from start to finish, taking a 19-7 lead to halftime and never giving the Samoans a sniff in the second spell.

Earlier, tournament favourites South Africa continued their strong start, shutting out Australia 26-0 to make it two wins from two. Kenya were also far too good for Papua New Guinea, cruising to a 47-5 victory, while England beat Argentina 26-7.

Next up is New Zealand v France.

*****

FIJIAN SUSPENDED FOR SIX MATCHES

There was good news and bad news for Fiji as they continued their Wellington Sevens campaign this afternoon.

After beginning their day with a 26-12 win over Australia, Fiji thrashed Japan 56-0 in the biggest win of the round so far. The Olympic champions led 28-0 at halftime and showed no mercy after the break, running in their eighth try on fulltime to crack the half century.

But, while the match was still ongoing, World Rugby Sevens announced on their Twitter account a six-game suspension for Fiji's Nemani Nagusa.

The player was found guilty of making contact with the eyes of an opponent during his side's earlier win over Australia and now, unless he opts to appeal, will miss the rest of the round.

Earlier, Scotland beat Russia 12-5 to rebound from their earlier loss against Canada.

*****

CANADA THROUGH TO KNOCKOUT STAGES

Canada became the first team to book passage to the Wellington Sevens quarterfinals with their second win of the opening morning.

The North Americans accounted for Wales 28-5, leading 14-0 at half-time and adding another converted try, before their rivals could answer.

Nathan Hirayama and Harry Jones scored two tries each, with Hirayama converting all four.

*****

ALL BLACKS SEVENS THRASH SAMOA IN WELLINGTON OPENER

New Zealand fired an early warning shot to their rivals and snatched early bragging rights over former coach Sir Gordon Tietjens with a comprehensive 33-7 win over Samoa in their tournament opener.

After playing a near faultless first half, where Samoa barely touched the ball, the All Blacks Sevens led 21-0 and put on another try before their opponents could respond.

That try went to veteran Tim Mikkelson, who moved into the IRB Sevens all-time top five try scorers with 181.

Alamanda Motuga crossed for Samoa's only try, but their hopes were dashed at the kick-off, when Lafaele Vaa was yellow-carded for tackling NZ captain Scott Curry in mid-air.

Former captain DJ Forbes set the seal for New Zealand, capping an energetic showing with a try in the corner. Rocky Khan converted four of the five tries.

"I was [disappointed]," said Sir Gordon afterwards. "I suppose when you can't see any ball, you're going to be chasing the game.

"They [New Zealand] played well. We knew they would lift themselves for Wellington."

*****

ALL BLACKS SEVENS UP EARLY IN WELLINGTON TITLE DEFENCE

The All Blacks Sevens are off to a great start in their Wellington Sevens title defence, leading Samoa (and former NZ coach Sir Gordon Tietjens) 21-0 at half-time of their tournament opener.

New Zealand were lucky to get their first try, after captain Scott Curry stretch out for the line, but appeared to lose the ball in the process. The referee was happy to award the try, though, and it was converted by Rocky Khan.

Reclaiming the kick-off, the hosts made no mistake at the second time of asking, with Sherwin Stowers crossing in a tackle, and Curry had a double before the break, taking a nice offload from former captain DJ Forbes.

Earlier, in the same pool, United States and France fought out a thrilling 21-21 draw, with the Americans scoring twice in the closing stages of the second half to achieve parity.

Still a lot of empty seats at Westpac Stadium for the home team's first appearance.

Earlier, in the same pool, United States and France fought out a thrilling 21-21 draw, with the Americans scoring twice in the closing stages of the second half to achieve parity.

*****

FIJI STRIKE EARLY BLOW IN 'DEATH POOL'

Olympic champions Fiji have struck first in the Wellington Sevens "pool of death", rallying to beat Australia 26-12 in the third game of the opening day.

The Pacific wizards started slowly, conceding the first try and trailing 12-5 at half-time, before running in three tries over the final seven minutes.

Grouped with early IRB series leaders South Africa and Olympic upstarts Japan, the Fijians would have faced a tough task winning out of pool play with an opening loss.

The TAB has the Blitz Boks as initial favourites for the Wellington tournament at $2, with Rio gold medallists Fiji ($3.75), defending champions New Zealand ($4) and England ($5.50) next most fancied.

South Africa easily accounted for the Japanese 33-0 in a rematch of the Olympic bronze-medal game, while Wales also overwhelmed Russia 33-0 and Canada topped Scotland 28-19 in early fixtures.

Spectators have been typically slow to arrive at Westpac Stadium, with only a few in their seats through the first hour's play.

 A fan looks on from the stands during the 2017 Wellington Sevens at Westpac Stadium
A fan looks on from the stands during the 2017 Wellington Sevens at Westpac Stadium

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ALL BLACKS SEVENS FACE SIR GORDON IN OPENER

For 12 years the doyen of NZ Sevens success, the spectre of Sir Gordon Tietjens looms large over the home team, as they prepare to defend their Wellington Sevens title this weekend.

Sir Gordon finally stepped down from the New Zealand coaching role after a disappointing 2016 Rio Olympic campaign, but wasn't on the open market long, before he was snapped up by Samoa.

Guess who the All Blacks Sevens face first up at Westpac Stadium this afternoon?

"Yeah, it couldn't have been written any better," NZ assistant coach Scott Waldrom told Radio Sport's Nigel Yalden. "There was a one-in-four chance of that happening - it was like it was inevitable.

"I guess it was going to come as some stage."

This will be Sir Gordon's first official outing with the Samoans since taking up the new appointment. While he was lurking in the shadows as "technical advisor" at the first two stops of the 2016/17 IRB Sevens circuit last month, he was still under NZ Rugby contract until the end of the year.

Over those two tournaments, Samoa compiled a three-win, seven-loss record, losing the Trophy Final to Canada in Dubai, so considerable interest surrounds how they will respond to their new mentor, who is renowned as a tough taskmaster.

Waldrom doesn't think the NZ players will be overawed by the familiar figure stalking the side-lines in unfamiliar colours.

"We got pretty used to seeing him around at Cape Town and Dubai. He was there the whole time anyway and they trained right next to us in Cape Town, so I think most of the boys have gotten past him being with the opposition.

"There's something different about this team at the moment. They're just really focused on their performances as individuals, getting the small things right and the big picture will take care of itself.

"We haven't really focused on [Tietjens]. We know it's in the background, but it's something we can't control.

"The guys are just going to go out there and make sure we get that win in the first game."

The opening game of the Wellington Sevens, between Wales and Russia, is scheduled for 11am, while NZ v Samoa kicks off at 1.41pm.

The full schedule for today is:

11am Wales v Russia
11.23am Scotland v Canada
11.46am Fiji v Australia
12.09pm South Africa v Japan
12.32pm Kenya v Argentina
12.55pm England v Papua New Guinea
1.18pm USA v France
1.41pm NZ v Samoa
2.24pm Wales v Canada
2.47pm Scotland v Russia
3.10pm Fiji v Japan
3.33pm South Africa v Australia
3.56pm Kenya v Papua New Guinea
4.19pm England v Argentina
4.42pm USA v Samoa
5.05pm NZ v France
6pm Russia v Canada
6.26pm Scotland v Wales
6.52pm Australia v Japan
7.18pm South Africa v Fiji
7.44pm Argentina v Papua New Guinea
8.10pm England v Kenya
8.36pm France v Samoa
9.02pm NZ v USA

*****

KOROI BRINGS X-FACTOR TO ALL BLACKS SEVENS

All Blacks Sevens coaching staff have high hopes for teenager sensation Vilimoni Koroi, on debut at the Wellington tournament this weekend.

The 18-year-old Feilding High School phenom has impressed assistant coach Scott Waldrom in his first campaign with the national squad and thinks he provides something the programme has missed for a while.

Since Waldrom's fellow assistant Tomasi Cama stopped playing.

"He's put his hand u, so we've given him an opportunity to see how he goes on the world stage," Waldrom told Radio Sport's Nigel Yalden. "Having someone like Tomasi around to mentor and guide him is going to be a massive boost for him.

"He's just got that natural confidence and ability to play with the ball, to draw in defenders and find space.

"I'm excited, we haven't had that playmaker since Tomasi stopped playing, so it's exciting to have someone like that in the mix and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do."

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