Hopes of a fifth straight title go up in smoke
England's universe was tipped upside down yesterday as an all-black hole swallowed their futile attempts to extend their reign at the Hong Kong Sevens.
'We had too many players in the contact situation and this cost us hugely,' said crushed England coach Ben Ryan after watching hopes of a fifth straight Hong Kong title disappear in the quarter-finals.
New Zealand won convincingly, scoring four tries in an emphatic 26-0 victory.
'We were beaten by the better team,' said Ryan. 'They struck early and after that we were forced to play catch-up rugby. And it was hard to do that when we had too many players in the contact.'
The lack of a genuine speedster of the class of a Richard Haughton or a Tom Varndell also cost this young and inexperienced side hugely.
Even the magic of Simon Amor, the winning captain in the four previous Hong Kong Sevens, couldn't lift England. So dominating was New Zealand's defence that it resulted in England failing to set foot in their opponents' 22. It was all New Zealand. All black.
'It was a comprehensive win in terms of our defence,' said pleased Kiwi coach Gordon Tietjens. 'The key was to score first and we did that.'
Tries from Afeleke Pelenise and Nigel Hunt, both stemming from poor handling by the English backs, saw New Zealand take an early 12-0 lead. This was extended to 19-0 just on half-time with Steven Yates skipping his way over.
England needed to score first in the second half for any chance of a revival, but it was Solomon King, coming on as a substitute, who dotted down for the Kiwis to break English hearts.'It was tough out there. Not getting to score any points was a killer,' said disappointed Saracens player Dave Seymour, one of five players who had tasted success in Hong Kong before. 'Hopefully, we will learn from our mistakes and come back stronger next year.'
But for now, they will have to contemplate the significance of this loss. The failure to at least reach the final here will mean England's slim chances of winning the IRB Series this season are over.
'Unless one of the outsiders win here, we are out of the reckoning,' said Ryan.
It was a hope which was short-lived as all the top four teams - Fiji, Samoa, South Africa and New Zealand - progressed into the semi-final stage. Ryan said the lack of experience cost his side a lot at their favourite hunting ground. 'It has been an evolving season for England. A lot of our guys from previous years have moved on and that's our goal in sevens. We are doing our job with players developing.'
Ryan added: 'I hope the current lot will have learned by this experience and come back stronger next year.'
Tietjens had no doubt that England would bounce back. 'They have a very young side. But they seem to be growing with every game,' he said.