Fiji hand out a tough lesson to the hosts
Debutant Gesinde discovers life in the fast lane is not all beer and parties
The fairy-tale transition from fancy dress in the South Stand last year to fancy footwork on the pitch didn't materialise for Hong Kong debutant Eni Gesinde yesterday, with defending champions Fiji showing the hosts what a huge gulf lies between Asia and the rest of the world.
Fiji, 13-time Cup winners, handed out a stark lesson for core-team aspirants with a six-try 36-0 drubbing. Defeat was always on the cards, but the home team will be disappointed by the error-ridden display which coach Dai Rees said was "mental".
"Welcome to the core-team world series. Our speed of thought was way behind," Rees said. "We are not used to playing at this level of intensity and it showed. We were overawed. We missed tackles, dropped balls and our ball retention was poor as we turned over possession. Name it and we made the mistakes."
It is a worrying summation for a team with big dreams of playing on the HSBC Sevens World Series next season.
It was not the best game to make a debut, but Gesinde - one of four players making their first outing at this event - still had a huge smile on his face. It would have been even bigger if he had an ounce of extra gas when soon after coming on as a replacement in the second half he found himself in space and with the try-line in sight.
But the Nigerian-born Kowloon flanker was cut down centimetres from the line, once again underlining the difference in pace at the highest level. In Asia, Hong Kong rule supreme, but in their first appearance on the world series, they looked lost.
"It was a bit unfortunate, another yard and I might have made it," said Gesinde, who for the past three years had partied in the South Stand with his friends.
"We made a lot of errors, but these guys [Fiji} have won this event quite a few times and are the defending champions. We will bounce back tomorrow," Gesinde said.
Everything which could have gone wrong did for Hong Kong. From the start, Hong Kong lost Anthony Haynes who landed awkwardly and is in danger of missing the rest of the tournament. It was the nightmare scenario Hong Kong will want to avoid as they look towards the London Sevens in May which serves as the qualification tournament for core-team status.
Fiji have used 30 players this season - 19 of them debutants - as they look at building depth before the World Cup Sevens in June. Hong Kong do not have this luxury of depth.
"He turned his knee in that bad fall. It doesn't look good," said Rees. "Ant is a key player and if he is lost to us, it will be felt".
Haynes was hopeful the injury wasn't as bad as it looked.
Ilai Tinai, Samisono Viriviri, and in the second half sub Benito Masilevu all grabbed a brace of tries in the one-sided affair.
"We have brought a relatively inexperienced team with only three of us having played here before so we needed a good start and I'm pleased we got it," said Fiji captain Nemani Nagusa. "We didn't take Hong Kong lightly but this first game was just a stepping stone for us."
In Hong Kong's case, it will be a matter of putting this result behind as they confront Spain and Canada today.
"The guys have done it before, bouncing back after a poor first-day performance. I'm confident we can do that once again," Rees said.