Hong Kong Sevens

South Africa sparkle as experience comes to fore

Series rivals New Zealand also make a statement in the fierce battle to be kings of the world

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 12:38am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 2:13am

The Hong Kong Stadium can feel like a cauldron for those experiencing Friday night for the first time - from both sides of the fence. So it was down to a few seasoned veterans to cool things down as the Sevens got under way.

Tournament favourites South Africa and New Zealand were both able to call on the experience of mentors who have over the years experienced everything Hong Kong can throw at a man as they got their respective campaigns off to winning starts against France (31-7) and Scotland (33-0).

Freshly minted South African coach Neil Powell was a regular visitor in his playing days and revealed he had made sure his squad knew what they were in for on a night where the humidity rose - fuelled in part maybe by a crowd that had taken to the day's extended schedule with relish, if beer sales where any indication.

"We have a few players who have never played here before, but I told them what they could expect," said Powell. "Hong Kong is unlike any other event and Friday night is different as well as the grass can be wet and the ball slippery.

"It's always difficult to play your first game against France as well because you never know which team is going to pitch up and play the game.

Hong Kong is unlike any other event and Friday night is different as well as the grass can be wet and the ball slippery
South Africa coach Neil Powell

"But we only had to make one change from the team that played in Tokyo and that was to bring in Cecil [Afrika] and he knows what this tournament is all about, too."

The 26-year-old Afrika, who has torched his way through previous editions of the Sevens, showed he has lost none of his spark with a try in the second half that put an end to the game as a contest.

"It was great to have him come in and add to the momentum we built last week in Tokyo," said Powell. "We couldn't take it all the way there [losing the final to Fiji 33-26] but we quickly got things back together and have come here in good shape."

The South Africans came to town holding a two-point lead in the HSBC Sevens World Series over New Zealand, a squad that feeds off coach Gordon Tietjens' 20-odd years of experience.

And after a shaky start, the All Blacks turned up some heat of their own in the second half.

"Playing your first game in a tournament is always tough. But to put 33 points on a side like Scotland is great," Tietjens said. "Our defence was outstanding. Every team lifts themselves when they play us, so it was a good performance.

"We have five players playing here for the first time in Hong Kong. But the young guys are hungry to do well here. The US beat Samoa today and are a team on the up. We'll not be underestimating them at all."

England have entered the fray this year with Simon Amor in charge, another Hong Kong veteran and former Sevens skipper, who was well aware how enormous the occasion can feel for the first timer.

The English did not have things their own way against a spirited Argentina before winning 19-12. Tom Mitchell proved the difference with 14 points from his two tries and two conversions and he left the stadium with an ice pack clutched firmly to a nasty knock on his left cheek.

"We've got seven guys making their debut here and it's a difficult place to channel the energies and the emotions," said Amor. "It was scrappy for us first out, but pleasing to get a win against a good side. You can show them on tapes, you can talk about it, but it's only experience that tells you what Friday night here is all about."

And there will no doubt be plenty of fans with sore heads this morning agreeing with that.