DUBAI, December 1- Newly-crowned Commonwealth champions New Zealand will start as favourites when the first leg of the eight-stage IRB Sevens World Series gets under way here on Friday.The Kiwis arrive in the United Arab Emirates as defending champions of the two-day event although an experienced Samoa team snatched the overall title last season.
"We were disappointed to finish runners-up last year to a very good Samoan team so now we’ve got to push on with our goals and objectives this year to win back the World Series," said long-time New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens.
"We’ve won eight but haven’t won it the last two years — we were second last year and fourth the year before, but Sevens has got a lot closer."
Tietjens said his team’s goal over the last year had been to ensure a fourth consecutive gold at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
"Our objective, first and foremost, was to win that (Commonwealth) gold medal, that was right up at the top and then the World Series.
"This year it’s just the World Series so I can tell you that New Zealand will be doing their utmost to go out and win that Series."
That said, Tietjens will have to deal with some new faces as his Commonwealth squad was cut back, the likes of Zac Guildford, Liam Messam, Sherwin Stowers and Fritz Lee having all returned to their Super 15 squads.
One team that was not in Delhi was Fiji because the country was suspended from the Commonwealth, but that did not stop Tietjens fingering the Pacific Islanders as strong contenders for the title.
"People might see us as the team to beat and clearly we’ll be going all out to win in Dubai and win the World Series, but I think the sleeping giant is Fiji this year," the Kiwi said.
"They weren’t at the Commonwealth Games, which was a real shame for them, but they’ll go quietly about their business. They play sevens week in and week out in Fiji and I think that they will bring a very good side."
Fiji manager Sale Sorovaki was confident that missing the Commonwealths had not affected the preparations of his team, which has not won in Dubai since 1998 and finished last season fourth overall after Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
"We would have loved to have gone, but it was something that was out of our control. It hasn’t stopped us from preparing for the Series," said Sorovaki, whose side also boasts a number of up-and-coming players.
South African Paul Treu is another coach with a green squad, but acknowledged that it was part of business in the abbreviated form of rugby union, which will make its Olympic debut at the 2014 Rio de Janeiro Games.
"We as sevens coaches are in the business of building the stars of the future, not relying on established household names and I’m quite happy to surprise a few people here this week," Treu said in his IRB blog.
"In South Africa it’s always going to be a challenge to get players released and we’re taking a very long term approach in terms of our development as a team with the ultimate goal being 2016, but our immediate goal is definitely to start well here in Dubai and then on home soil in George next weekend."
Treu said Australia "could really be the team to beat".
"I think they have a better national structure than any other team in terms of Robbie Deans and Michael O’Connor working together with the Academies.
"You only need to look at how many players at the Commonwealth Games and on last year’s World Series were involved with the Under 20s and – most importantly – have been involved in the recent tour of Europe and performed really well."