By CHRIS RATTUE
International Sevens Rugby has yet to reach a point where there is much use in predicting anything other than a New Zealand and Fiji final.
It should be the same old story today in the final of the international tournament in Wellington today. That will mean a repeat of the first four finals in the new world series which has seen New Zealand and Fiji share the honours.
But there were cracks in the New Zealand machine big enough to run a Jonah Lomu through at Wellington's impressive new Sports Stadium yesterday.
In one of New Zealand's poorest Sevens displays, they only just scraped past the Cook Islands 21-12 in their opening game.
New Zealand suffered through poor basics and particularly their kick off reception. That alone help cost them tries early in each half and enable the Cooks to lead 12-7 midway through the second spell.
Order was restored when Christian Cullen burst on to a pass from Justin Wilson to score a long-range try. Then Karl Te Nana raced 70m to settle the issue.
New Zealand found their form in the second match against Tonga with Lomu, who had a very quiet first game, putting in some impressive charges as New Zealand won 57-0.
But the question remains whether the Cook Islands exposed some New Zealand flaws or whether it was just a complacent start from the tournament favourites.
Fiji were also unpredictable. They struggled to a narrow halftime lead against the United States before winning 47-10. But they crushed Papua New Guinea, who showed some nice touches in yesterday's matches, by 54-0.
While New Zealand have Eric Rush, Fiji have the great Sevens exponent Waisale Serevi to run their game. But it is the 22-year-old Filemoni Dalasau who has scored nearly 60 tries in the series so far and may prove to be their greatest match winner.
Can anyone knock over the big two? It does not seem likely, but New Zealand will be wondering why they struggled against the Cook Islands, who were well beaten by France and Tonga in their other games.
New Zealand captain Rush has already said his side would not win the tournament if they rely on Lomu and Cullen to do all the work.
Fiji and New Zealand both had convincing wins late last night to remain on track to meet in the final.
New Zealand beat France 35-7 and Fiji beat Argentina 35-12. Australia carried on their unbeaten run, winning 22-12 against South Africa to finish on top of their group. Unbeaten Samoa were the other group winners.
Quarter-final draw: New Zealand v Argentina; Canada v Australia; Samoa v South Africa, Tonga v Fiji.