Pressure on Kiwis to halt SA Sevens express

South Africa and New Zealand have placed a premium on pace as the International Rugby Board Sevens series enters a crucial round this weekend.

South Africa go into the third leg 12 points clear of eight-time champions New Zealand after winning the first two rounds, in Dubai and at home.

That lead would start to look insurmountable with another title in the tournament, which starts in New Zealand on Friday.

”Wellington is huge for us,” said New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens.

”We’d love to win this tournament because you can’t let [South Africa] get away again.”

”For us to do well in this world series it’s important to do well here at this tournament and peg a few points back.”

The two glamour sides have bolstered their ranks with pace since the last round when South Africa narrowly beat New Zealand 12-7 in the final of their home tournament in George.

A fully-fit Howard Noble has been recalled to the South African side to join Robert Ebersohn, Ryno Benjamin and Gio Aplon in what is arguably the quickest back line in the tournament.

Ebersohn, who has put sevens ahead of Super 14 rugby, is the leading try scorer with 10 so far this season — a testament to his pace and finishing.

New Zealand, who have lost last year’s star, Victor Vito, to the 15-man game, have recalled flying winger Viliame Waqaseduadua to strengthen their flanks.

”He’s Fijian, he knows the game very well and he’s got that degree of pace that is needed and great rugby experience at the higher level,” Tietjens said.

The other leading contenders in the tournament include England and Fiji, who are third equal on the table, as well as fourth and fifth-placed Samoa and Argentina.

Fiji, however, have not had the smoothest build-up with sevens maestro Waisale Serevi sacked as coach just days before arriving in Wellington.

Samoa, the beaten finalists here last year, failed to get past the quarterfinals in Dubai and George but showed a return to form when they won a recent non-world series tournament in Australia.

But they will be without usual captain Uale Mai and flyhalf Lolo Lui who were reduced to being non-travelling reserves.

Standings: South Africa 40, New Zealand 28, England 24, Fiji 24, Argentina 16, Samoa 12, Portugal 8, Kenya 6, Australia 4, United States 4 — Sapa-AFP

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