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Both eyes on Sevens for Baker

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Sportal.co.nz     01 Feb 2013     Getty Images

The Taranaki fullback and Crusaders wider training group player has his focus firmly on the New Zealand's HSBC Sevens World Series tournaments in Wellington and Las Vegas and has not had chance to talk to Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder about it.

Since Guildford's decision to step down indefinitely from the Crusaders following another alcohol-fuelled fight, Baker, who has spent the past two seasons with the Highlanders, has been touted as the former All Black's likely replacement.

"The main focus for me was these two tournaments," said Baker. "I haven't really talked to him [Blackadder] too much. I'm just focusing on this and he knows that.

"The plan was always to go back and train with the Crusaders [after the two tournaments] so I'll see what happens.

"It would be awesome [to become part of the main squad]. They are pretty well renowned as a rugby franchise.

"I'm pretty lucky to have the opportunity with sevens and Super Rugby."

Three months ago Super Rugby appeared to be off the agenda for Baker after he wasn't picked up by any of the franchises and his future was uncertain.

But All Blacks Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens came calling and after a two-year hiatus, Baker was back on the sevens trail.

"Three months ago I didn't really know what I was going to do," said the 24-year-old, whose last match for the All Blacks Sevens before this series was the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

"To be picked back up with the sevens and the Crusaders jumped on board after that, it was good.

"I got an opportunity to play in front of some good teams and good people. Hopefully I can push forward for something else."

He has done his chances no harms so far with good performances in the series' opening three tournaments.

New Zealand has reached the final in all three and took the silverware in South Africa where Baker scored seven tries - including two hat-tricks - on the final day in Port Elizabeth. He is fourth in the series' overall try count with 14, two behind leader Pedro Martin of Spain.

"He left an awesome player and then got into Super Rugby and he's slotted back in probably even better than when he left us," said captain DJ Forbes.

Tietjens will want to see more of that form in Wellington over the next two days. His side have been drawn with England, the USA and Spain in pool A.

England were hit by injuries in the earlier rounds - and as a result are currently only 13th overall.

But they are back close to full-strength heading into this week's tournament. The USA have a former sprinter, Carlin Isles, in their squad who has become a YouTube sensation and been dubbed the 'fastest player in world rugby' due to his electric speed and ability to get past defenders.

Spain are one of the new core teams that will contest every round of the series.

"They might think that we've got Spain and USA in our pool but the USA are ranked the second top team in that group," said Baker. "There are no easy-beats anymore. That's probably what makes the World Series so interesting now.

"If you get through day one unscathed you're doing pretty well I think."

New Zealand open their home tournament against England on Friday afternoon.
Tietjens has described it as 'a toughie' and believes there are now six or seven teams that on their day can win the tournament.

"I think the first game always sets the tone for the tournament," he said. "We're always looking to play a very good first game and that will have to be against England.

"I think four or five years ago we lost our first game here against Wales. It was a pretty punishing start for us. We wouldn't want to start like that again.

"[England] have lots to prove. They haven't done particularly well in the last three tournaments. They've got a full-strength side back now so they are going to be tough."

New Zealand squad: Kurt Baker, Tomasi Cama, Sam Dickson, DJ Forbes (capt), Gillies Kaka, Rocky Khan, Ben Lam, Luke Masirewa, Tim Mikkelson, Lote Raikabula, David Raikuna, Belgium Tuatagaloa.