Top teams off to Delhi after Dubai training

New Zealand and South Africa, will finally set up base in Delhi today after skipping the early stages of the event to prepare in the UAE instead.

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DUBAI // Two of the favourites for Commonwealth gold in the rugby sevens, New Zealand and South Africa, will finally set up base in Delhi today after skipping the early stages of the event to prepare in the UAE instead.

New Zealand, the nation who have won all three Commonwealth sevens tournaments to date, opted to stay in Dubai because of concerns about sanitation and security in India.

Liam Messam, one of four full All Blacks who have been picked in the New Zealand squad for Delhi, took a week to make up his mind to accept the call up.

The Waikato Chiefs captain admitted he was concerned about leaving his young family following the well-publicised reports of adverse living conditions in the athletes' village. However, Gordon Tietjens, the coach, had his full squad with him when they left Dubai last night, having played warm-up matches against Wales and the Arabian Gulf this week.

"We had always opted to come to Dubai to train anyway, but with the problems they have been having over there it made sense that we missed the opening ceremony," Tietjens, who has overseen the three previous gold medal campaigns, said.

"By the time we get there everyone will have been settled into the athletes' village so we will be going in with everything up and running.

"If there had been any disruption, we have had the option to pull out and go back home if it wasn't going to work."

South Africa's players will be hopeful of more forgiving conditions than they were confronted with in Dubai when they reach Delhi today.

Paul Treu, the coach, ran his side through two rigorous training sessions, either side of a match against a scratch Arabian Gulf side at Dubai College last night.

Treu has greater concerns than the standard of living at the athletes' village.

Already without five key players ahead of the Games, the Boks had another injury scare when Marius Schoeman was taken to hospital with a suspected fractured eye-socket sustained in a collision in the game against the Gulf.

Treu said his players have been unaffected by the criticism the Games has attracted - even Boom Prinsloo, the debutant forward who is making his first trip outside of South Africa. "We have kept most of that talk away from the players, but most of them have read about it on the internet,"

Treu, whose side are aiming to better their best Commonwealth finish of a bronze medal at Manchester in 2002, said.

"For us it has been about focusing on the task in hand. We have a lot of new players and there is no time for any sideshows to affect our preparations. It hasn't affected us.

"I am keen to see the guys play. They must go out there and embrace the challenge and the whole ethos of the Commonwealth Games."

pradley@thenational.ae