GLASGOW, July 21- New Zealand will seek to extend their stranglehold on the Commonwealth Games rugby sevens for a fifth successive time when it gets under way at Ibrox Stadium, their bid boosted by the absence of arch-rivals Fiji.
The All Blacks have won all four previous Commonwealth sevens tournaments, dating back to the Jonah Lomu-inspired triumph in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, and have since dominated the IRB Sevens World Series of a sport which will be included in the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“For 16 years now Rugby Sevens has enjoyed being a key part of the Commonwealth Games,” said Bernard Lapasset, president of rugby union’s world governing body, the IRB.
“To compete alongside their compatriots in a multi-sport environment is a matter of huge pride and honour for our rugby players, who are making giant strides in this new Olympic era. We wish our rugby athletes all the best in this magnificent international event.”
The Fijians will not be in Scotland, however, having missed qualification after the late inclusion of their country in the multi-sport event.
Despite their absence, there is a formidable line-up of teams that turn out on the IRB world circuit.
Reigning champions New Zealand have been drawn in Pool A alongside Canada, Nigeria and tournament hosts Scotland, who have named star international British and Irish Lion full-back Stuart Hogg and veteran winger Sean Lamont in the squad.
Silver medallists four years ago in New Delhi, Australia, and bronze medallists South Africa are top seeds in pools D and B respectively, while other World Series regulars in Samoa, England, Kenya, Wales and Canada will be determined to challenge the dominance of the mighty Sevens All Blacks.
The beauty of the Commonwealths means there are also places for the unheralded likes of Malaysia, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda.
Stalwart DJ Forbes, along with Sherwin Stowers and Tim Mikkelson plus World Cup winners Declan O’Donnell and Pita Ahki, headline the New Zealand team coached by veteran Gordon Tietjens.
“Winning a gold medal at a Commonwealth Games is very special,” said Tietjens. “There is nothing better than seeing a player being presented with a gold medal and listening to the anthem.
“I am confident if these guys can perform to the best of their ability and be on top of their game we can go very well.
“To win, it’s all about consistency, accuracy, strong defence and dominating possession. If we can play consistently well, and having a strong bench will help, then that plays a big hand in being successful.”
For Scottish full-back Hogg, the tournament will all be about impressing in Glasgow, not a traditional rugby heartland in a country where football is king.
There is also the added aim of home union players trying to sparkle ahead of selection of a British team for the Rio Games.
“The Ibrox crowd will be massive, up to 45,000, and it is exciting,” said Hogg, whose last sevens appearance was four years ago for club side Hawick.
“We want to put in a performance that makes the whole nation proud.”
Pool A – Scotland, New Zealand, Canada, Barbados
Pool B – South Africa, Kenya, Cook Islands, Trinidad and Tobago
Pool C – Samoa, Wales, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia
Pool D – England, Australia, Sri Lanka, Uganda