Cook Islands eye more shocks in Wellington
The third leg of the 2010/11 HSBC Sevens World Series in New Zealand represents a chance for several of Oceania's smaller rugby nations to show the world that they can compete at the highest level, including the Cook Islands.
The last time the Cooks played in the World Series was at the 2009 Wellington tournament. Having failed to qualify in 2010, Ramsey Tomokino's men are itching to get their boots on and stride out at the Westpac Stadium when the action begins on 4 February.
And the disappointment of not playing last year has acted as extra motivation. Not only are they looking forward to playing this year, they have set themselves the goal of never again missing out on qualification.
"It is huge. For us this is the biggest tournament we ever get to go to and we are really excited to be back," said head coach Tomokino.
"It was a real let-down not to be here in 2010. We let the people in the Islands down, it is an event they always look forward to, and the boys were disappointed too.
"But we have set a goal that we will never miss Wellington again and we want to make sure we are always here. Missing out in 2010 made the team really understand the importance of qualifying.
"We had a scenario where the boys were treating Wellington as the number one tournament, whereas our number one tournament is our qualifier to ensure we are at Wellington.
"Although we want more tournaments, we certainly want to be here, do well and finish better than where we are currently ranked."
David vs Goliath
In 2009 the Cook Islands were one of two teams - the other was eventual Cup winners England - to win all three of their matches on day two as they raced to the Bowl trophy with fine victories over Canada, Australia and Tonga.
Looking to pick up where they left off, they begin with pool matches against the current Series leaders England, reigning Rugby World Cup Sevens champions Wales, and USA.
"We are in a pool I am quite comfortable with and we really want to make an impression," added Tomokino.
"On our day, if everything goes right we could cause some upsets. We are ranked 16 but people know we are capable of upsets.
"We will always be the underdog, the David against the Goliath, but we will make sure we are ready and try to knock one of those off on Friday, if not all of them."
The Cook Islands have, in fact, beaten all three of their pool opponents before, including a surprise 21-17 victory over England in the pool stages of the 2008 NZI Sevens.
Home fires burning
Their victory over Australia in the Bowl semi final in 2009 also shocked many viewers, but with 35,000 fans supporting them against every team except hosts New Zealand, they believe they hold it in their grasp to beat any side.
"Sevens is a funny game and anything can happen, but we are going to take it to those guys. We are usually a crowd favourite when we play the top guns, so we will be using that home advantage.
"The key thing I stress to our players is that, particularly in our pool, we will be treated like a home team.
"It is a bit like when we beat Australia in 2009 when I said to the boys 'if you want to know what it is like to have 40,000 people cheering for you, go out and beat Australia', and that is exactly what they did."
This year the Cook Islands will also appear at the Adelaide International Sevens on 2-3 April, the sixth leg of the 2010/11 HSBC Sevens World Series.
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