Three-try Pesamino toast of Samoa

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 April, 2007, 12:00am

Battle of the Pacific islanders a classic story of a game of two halves, with Fiji losing out

The bright city lights did not startle Samoa's village-grown heroes as they beat much-fancied Fiji in one of the strangest Cup finals ever played in the history of the Sevens.

Samoa scored five first-half tries, three by Hong Kong debutant Mikaele Pesamino, and then held off a Fijian fightback in the second half to emerge 27-22 winners.

The South Stand was 'Adults Only' for the first time this year. But the seething mass saw little action up close as all the play was at the northern end.

The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union might as well have closed that section off and allowed the exhibitionists - a couple did invade the pitch during play - to have the run of that part of the field. For the match was truly one of two halves. And Samoa had the better half.

'We are winning this season because we are using only players who are based in Samoa. We are not using anyone who is playing abroad. This win is good, we are poor people, village people,' smiled thrilled Samoan coach Dickie Tafua after his team lifted the US$100,000 winner's purse.

It was Samoa's first Hong Kong Seven title since 1993. Pesamino was only a little boy of eight then. Last night he strode like a Colossus as he homed in on the right corner flag to score all three of his tries, and each time he dived over, it was one more stake driven deep into Fijian hearts and the collective heart of the fans.

Player-coach Waisale Serevi refused to point the finger at his players - even at half-time he still had faith. 'We didn't start well at all. But I told the boys we gave 27 points in 10 minutes. I told them we can do it as well. We did it with great heart, but lost it at the end,' Serevi said.

Most of the 40,000 and more fans packed into the stadium willed Fiji to complete their comeback. But it never came to full term as Lepani Nabuliwaqa took the wrong option in the dying seconds which denied Fiji a fifth try.

Coming on as a replacement, Nabuliwaqa decided to cut inside despite three teammates waiting on his shoulder with only one Samoan in defence.

When time ran out, the Samoans fell to the floor in joy. They must have felt like a heavyweight boxer who had gone 15 difficult rounds with Mike Tyson. But it was Fiji who had been dealt the knockout blow - denied a 10th Hong Kong Sevens title.

'The key was controlling possession. We did that in the first half and scored five tries. In the second half, Fiji got all the possession and luckily for us, they only scored four tries,' Tafua said.

Samoa had earlier seen off a butter-fingered South Africa - Stefan Basson and his men spilled passes left and right - in the semi-finals (10-0), and before that Australia in the quarter-finals (26-17).

Fiji had the harder road into the final. They were taken all the way by a gutsy Scotland, 28-7, and then had their work cut out to beat old enemy New Zealand, 21-12, in the semis.

The latter game, won with a Waisale Serevi special where he danced past half the Kiwi team to score the decisive try, must have taken a toll in the sapping and humid conditions.

No surprise, then that they looked leaden-footed against Samoa. The forwards hardly contested the ball from the kick-off, and each subsequent restart, allowing Samoa to dictate play. On the few occasions, Fiji had ball in hand, they lost it at the breakdown with the Samoans showing more commitment. 'I'm not surprised at all at the way Samoa played. They have been playing well all season. We knew they would be dangerous,' admitted Serevi, who, strangely, did not make an appearance in the final. Perhaps his talismanic presence might just have lifted his side to their first Cup win since 1999. But it was Samoa's day.

'I'm so proud to help my country win. I have scored many hat-tricks before, but this is special,' said Pesamino. Samoa's other tries were dotted down by inspirational captain Uale Mai, who was awarded the best and fairest player, and Jerry Meafou.

Fiji replied through William Ryder, Setefano Cakau, Emosi Vucago and Simione Saravanua. But, crucially, Samoa prevented them from scoring under the posts, resulting in Ryder missing three conversions. Those six points made the difference.

They had one last chance. But Nabuliwaqa took the wrong decision.