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Tietjens drives Samoa into Blitzbokke quarter

© AFP / by Luke PHILLIPS | Samoa's Tomasi Alosio (L) vies with Australia's Henry Hutchison during their Rugby 7 tournament rugby matchon May 13, 2017

PARIS (AFP) - 

Defending champions Samoa, coached by sevens guru Gordon Tietjens, set up a Cup quarter-final against series leaders South Africa after both finished undefeated on the first day of the World Rugby Sevens Series on Saturday.

Samoa belied their current 13th position in world rankings in front of Tietjens, who led the All Blacks sevens team to 12 series titles and two World Cups but quit his job after the Rio Olympics when New Zealand failed to finish on the podium.

He might have traded in the black kit for the light blue of Samoa, but with his trademark cap in place, Tietjens oversaw two impressive opening wins over Olympic champions Fiji and Australia.

Samoa, with playmaker Alatasi Tupou and the bulldozing Joe Perez to the fore, upset the Fijians 19-17 in the very first game of the day and then capitalised on the first-half red carding of Liam McNamara to rack up a 21-14 victory over Australia.

In their final Pool D game, Samoa were almost given a shock by Russia with Vladislav Lazarenko opening the scoring before Perez grabbed one back for the Pacific islanders.

German Davydov crossed for Russia's second on the stroke of half-time and Dmitry Sukhin stretched the lead early in the second period.

But a brace of tries from Francis Ieremia, including one after the hooter had gone for full-time, secured Samoa a 19-all draw.

"It's been a tough year for us but we're starting to get a little bit of consistency in our game," said Tietjens.

"The guys are really starting to pick it up and are executing a lot better under pressure, especially against Fiji."

- Scotland shock -

The Samoans will play South Africa on Sunday after the latter overcame a shock opening 19-12 defeat by Scotland to finish second in Pool A after racking up facile wins over Japan and Canada.

With a lead over Fiji of 25 points in the race for the series title, and just 22pts on offer for a tournament win, the Blitzbokke could dethrone the Pacific islanders this weekend ahead of the series-ender London leg on May 20-21.

"The guys are really fighting hard. They were very disappointed about that first game," said South Africa coach Neil Powell.

"Samoa is going to be a physical game.

"They're making a step up every time they come back to a tournament.

"We lost to them in the quarter-finals last year so hopefully we've learnt our lessons and make sure we're 100 percent ready to go up against them tomorrow."

Fiji, who have been crowned champions over the last two seasons, will play the Scots in the quarter-finals, with England playing the Perry Baker-driven United States and unbeaten New Zealand -- seeking a first tournament win of the season -- taking on hosts France at the Jean-Bouin stadium, the western Parisian home to Top 14 club and newly crowned European Challenge Cup champions Stade Francais.

by Luke PHILLIPS

© 2017 AFP