x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

All Blacks to face Australia

New Zealand and Australia are drawn in the same group for next month's Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens.

New Zealand captain DJ Forbes, second from right, celebrates with team members after beating Fiji 31-21 in their final match of Rugby Sevens in Dubai last year.
New Zealand captain DJ Forbes, second from right, celebrates with team members after beating Fiji 31-21 in their final match of Rugby Sevens in Dubai last year.

DUBAI // New Zealand and Australia have been drawn in the same group for next month's Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens. The All Blacks, who are the top seeds, also face Wales and the winners of the African qualifying tournament in Pool A. New Zealand proved unbeatable for much of last season, winning in Dubai and then capturing four further Cup titles on the bounce in George (South Africa), Wellington, San Diego and Hong Kong before finishing the season strongly to defend their Edinburgh crown and rubber-stamp a remarkable season, their eighth Series triumph in nine years.

The Arabian Gulf team face a tough Group B on home soil. It is headed by South Africa, who finished second to the All Blacks in last season's standings, but also includes Scotland and Kenya. "You know that you are going to be up against one of the top sides whichever group you are in," said Wayne Marsters, who coaches Arabian Gulf alongside Mike Lunjevich. "We have faced New Zealand the last couple of years and at least we should know a little about South Africa as we are training with them before the event."

The South African coach Paul Treu came over in June to coach the Arabian Gulf and is bringing a fitness coach and analyst over later this month in a bid to help the Gulf be in top condition before their final pre-Dubai tournament in Singapore. "It will certainly give us an insight into South Africa, but it gives them a look at us too," added Marsters. "That, added to the tournaments we have played in Kazahkstan, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, will mean we are the best prepared we have ever been."

Samoa are top seeds in Group C, which includes Argentina, France and Georgia, while Group D is headed by Fiji and includes England, Portugal and the US. The tournament, which is being played at The Sevens, a new purpose-built stadium which will be the headquarters for rugby in the region. The Sevens will also host the Sevens World Cup for men and women in March. "Dubai never fails to deliver a fantastic event for the teams and the fans and this year is historic with the tournament moving to a brand new venue," said Beth Coalter, the IRB's Sevens manager. "The big question is whether the teams can hit back at New Zealand's dominance in the last Series, and I think the fact that it is also a World Cup year means that they can."

mwalker@thenational.ae