Pressure on Pacific sevens teams to perform in Wellington
Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea are all facing unique challenges in the lead-up to the resumption of the World Sevens Series in Wellington.
The Sevens World Series resumes in Wellington this weekend with all three Pacific teams having plenty to prove.
Papua New Guinea are back after a four year absence, Samoa are desperate to halt a form slump while Fiji want to regain top spot on the series ladder.
Vinnie Wylie reports.
PNG are back in Wellington for the first time since 2011 after qualifying at last year's Oceania Sevens. The Pukpuks spent three weeks training in Fiji last month, but all those preparations began to unravel when head coach Fereti Verebula resigned last week. Team manager Billy Rapilla says he only found out he would be taking charge of the team on Friday.
BILLY RAPILLA: Can't do anything much about it right now but yeah it was a bit of a shock. We boarded the flight on Sunday so [I found out] a couple of days before we boarded. He's got personal reasons which I can't disclose - PNG Rugby's got to do that at the moment - but for the team itself it's pretty disappointing. He's left at the last minute from a big tournament point of view but we're going to have to get ourselves together and get on with it.
Samoan coach Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua has rung the changes after a horror end to 2014. The Manu Sevens were Cup finalists in the opening leg on the Gold Coast but slipped to seventh in the World Series standings after missing the quarter finals in both Dubai and Port Elizabeth. The SRU Chair and Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi weighed in on the team's lack of form, telling players to stop the excuses and start winning. Regulars Tom Iosefo and Fautua Otto are among the familiar names ruled out with injury, while others have simply been dropped. Tim Nanai-Williams has been included in the final squad but team manager Rudi Moors says he's still with the Chiefs Super Rugby squad and isn't due to arrive until later today.
TIM NANAI-WILLIAMS: I talked with him when we get here. He said his coach will release him on Thursday. [With] the eligbility rules we need to play him in sevens before he goes to the fifteens. We would really like him to come [early] - that's why I'm calling him yesterday and Sunday. We need him back here but it's really hard for him to come because their coach hold him back until Thursday morning.
Fiji coach Ben Ryan saw his team relinquish top spot in the series standings after being knocked out by Australia in Dubai and Port Elizabeth. The team is approaching Wellington as a fresh start to the season and Ryan says they're lucky to have the services again of World Sevens Player of the Year Samisoni Viriviri.
BEN RYAN: I've been talking regularly to Sami and some of the other boys that left to France last year and also lucky that Jake White's taken over at Montpellier, who is an excellent coach and has perspective on life, and was happy to release Samisoni and if it works out well then we will see him again this season. We've got some great players that have been playing on the wing this year and have been scoring tries fairly freely, but haven't quite had that out and out pace, that Sami had, to stretch teams and allow holes inside.
Fiji play Portugal first up on Friday before another meeting with Australia. Samoa kick off against Scotland while PNG face England and New Zealand on day one.
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