All Blacks Sevens under no illusions

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Lynn McConnell     10 Jul 2018     Getty Images

Third-placed in the HSBC World Sevens series earlier in the year, the All Blacks Sevens know that South Africa, who won the series, are the most consistent side in the game at the moment while Fiji had called back their 'rock stars' from Europe for the event.
New Zealand coach Clark Laidlaw said: "When we play well we can beat them, we've proved that this year so we're going there to try and execute a game plan that can first beat Russia or Hong Kong and if we're good enough to meet Fiji in a semifinal then we'll be ready."

Laidlaw said it had been a long year but most of the players had been available for selection and they were excited by the balance in the side with a couple of younger players who had brought some excitement to the group over the last six weeks.

He was confident the side's training had them attuned to the technical and tactical requirements that would be essential in their Cup defence.

Among the players who had missed out there were some who had returned to fitness recently but with only 12 players allowed it had been a case of opting for those players who had been playing most recently.

Vilimoni Koroi, a key playmaker during the World Series and Commonwealth Games, was not available. It had been planned in January that Koroi would play for the sevens at the Gold Coast Games, then for the New Zealand Under-20s and then have a break before preparing with Otago for the Mitre 10 Cup, he said.

The straight knockout nature of the World Cup was something he was used to from his own playing days in Scotland. In the World Series it was only possible to drop one game if you were going to win so they were under no illusions and there were probably 10 teams getting excited this week about their chances of winning the World Cup.

"We'll treat the first game like a final. We've got Russia or Hong Kong so we'll do our analysis on them and get really prepared for them and then it's Australia or France in that second game if they are good enough to go through. We'll just narrow the focus on one team at a time and really rip into it," he said.

Two members of the side played in 2013, Tim Mikkelson and Kurt Baker while Scott Curry had broken his hand in the last training run before the tournament. But most of the squad had played in the Commonwealth Games earlier this year so the side had good experience from that.

Salesi Rayasi and Jona Nareki were probably the bolters in the side but Laidlaw said they had forced their way in from the way they played in the Paris tournament and the way they had trained subsequently.

"Neither of them have played a lot for us this year. They've only played a couple of tournaments each and I think it's shown already the benefit of being centralised and having a development team. Salesi and Akuila (Rokolisoa) were both part of that programme and had forced their way into the World Cup team," he said.

They were the first two players to show the benefits of having a development play in place.

Rayasi brought physicality and speed while he had the ability to play on the wing and also in the forwards which, in a 12-man team, gave him a utility value in the four-game tournament and his ability to come on and break a game open could be crucial, Laidlaw said.