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Twelve months' ago at last year's Wellington Sevens (the third leg of the ten-city circuit), the hometown side rewarded their fans with a tournament victory and 22-points. (The team's third consecutive Wellington title.) A week later in Sydney, the All Blacks won again and seemed on a familiar path to win the World Rugby HSBC 7s title. A third victory would come in Vancouver in March.
But the last three events proved disappointing with a sixth place in Singapore, a tie for seventh in Paris, and, finally, fifth in London. The end of tournament total notched 158 points, some 13 points less than second place South Africa (171), and 23 points less than champions Fiji (181).
A high medal at the Rio Olympics could overcome the mildly disappointing NZ season. Then, the unthinkable happened, Great Britain beat them in pool play, and shock of shocks, unheralded, unseeded, Japan also whipped the All Blacks. Fortunately, with five points from a 1-2 pool record, the Kiwis advanced on point’s differential into the quarters where Fiji ended their medal chances with a 12-7 victory.
Gone, and gone early, were one of the vaunted, most successful sevens sides in World Rugby history.
In September of last year, Sir Gordon Tietjens, the NZ sevens coach for 23-years with numerous titles and honors resigned. At 60-years old, he decided to give way to a younger regime. He shocked the nation by accepting the open head coach 7s position for Samoa, which he could not begin until 2017 in Wellington.
How have the All Blacks done without him so far? They are tied for fourth with Scotland after Dubai and Cape Town with 27 points, trailing South Africa, England, and Fiji.
Will the hometown cheering lead to a repeat win. This weekend will tell that story.