Difficult build-up for Pacific teams leading into Wellington 7s
Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have all faced various problems on and off the field in preparation for the Wellington Sevens.
The IRB World Sevens Series resumes this week in Wellington with all three Pacific teams facing distinct challenges on and off the field.
Fiji and Samoa are expected to contend for the title while Tonga have a longer-term goal in mind.
Vinnie Wylie reports.
Fiji coach Ben Ryan is no stranger to the Wellington Sevens, having tasted Cup glory twice during his seven years at the helm of England, including last year. Despite winning in Dubai, Fiji have been inconsistent this season and just two weeks ago failed to make the quarter finals in Las Vegas.
BEN RYAN: I think it's only Spain who've got less tournament caps than us at the moment, even with seasoned campaigners like Osea Kolinisau in the side, so the boys are learning pretty quickly. It's sort of reset button now for a lot of teams now we come into Wellington and lots of teams have got decent records here as well.
Fiji's preparations for Wellington haven't been helped by the ongoing financial problems at FRU Headquarters. Although the New Zealand government's relaxation of travel sanctions on members of the Fiji regime, dating back to the 2006 military coup, has been welcomed by the acting Chief Executive Officer of the Fiji Rugby Union Dr Berlin Kafoa.
BERLIN KAFOA: There are one or two players with military service backgrounds but like I said they have not been stopped in attending the Wellington Sevens in the coming weekend. [We are] thankful to New Zealand that they have lifted some of the sanctions, especially for sporting events, and allowing players to take part in the Wellington Sevens.
Samoa coach Viliamu Punivalu has been forced into some last minute changes, with Lole Tualaulelei and Patrick Faapale replacing the injured Tom Iosefo and suspended Sani Niue. The full squad only had their first training run together on Thursday but Punivalu says progress is being made.
VILIAMU PUNIVALU: When i got the job I said I was going to develop a new team and I've been doing that. We have six new players, and also six new players for Wellington, so it's all learning for the players and they can only get better at playing at this level. They finally stepped up in South Africa and Vegas to reach the semi finals and hopefully we can step up again this weekend.
Meanwhile Tonga insist a late coaching change has not been a distraction to their preparations. Former coach Manu Vunipola was in charge of the team when they qualified for Wellington at last year's Pacific Mini Games as well the team that competed at the Gold Coast Sevens in October. His assistant, Taholo 'Anitoni, has stepped in for this weekend's tournament after Vunipola was forced to pull out at the last minute.But team manager Filo 'Akauola says it is business as usual.
FILO 'AKAUOLA: Manu was there not permanently and when he apologised for himself for commitment to personal things and Taholo his assistant- he has been very much associated with Manu: the way they teach the boys, the training, and the board agreed Taholo would be the right person to come with the team.
Filo 'Akauola says there aim this weekend is to make the Cup quarter finals and hope they receive an invite to next month's Hong Kong challenger tournament, which would keep alive their hopes of a permanent berth on next year's World Circuit. Samoa play Kenya first up on Friday followed by Pool D rivals Tonga against Australia, while Fiji renew their rivalry with hosts New Zealand.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: