Live by the sword, die by the sword: close shaves for Fiji and All Blacks Sevens
Favourites New Zealand and Fiji forced to come from behind to secure narrow wins
Friday night and the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens was simply baying for entertainment. What the people wanted they got, too, with tournament favourites Fiji and New Zealand pushed to their limits in games they were supposed to own.
But the sevens world is rapidly changing and the clichés we’ve been hearing for so long now actually ring true. There are no easy games.
Hence Canada came out with little fear against reigning champions Fiji – boasting 15 titles and with almost every man, woman and child inside Hong Kong Stadium on their side – and they raced to a 17-5 lead before being pegged back as the Fijians worked the magic to win it at the death 19-17.
France took a 17-0 lead and Kiwi coach Gordon Tietjens suddenly appeared on the big screen with his head in his hands. But his men rallied and they rucked and they clawed their way back –and won by the same scoreline as Fiji.
“Live by the sword, die by the sword,” was how Fiji coach Ben Ryan summed up a game that featured two late yellow cards for the Canadians, the last coming for an errant leg thrust from Harry Jones that allowed Semi Kunatani to find his way over the line. Captain Osea Kolinisau’s conversion buried the sabre in the Canucks.
“It was a great experience for us,” said Ryan. “We play the way we’ll continue to play, which is risky. But we play that way because we are the best at playing that way. I am just pleased to get through that.
“We said before the game let’s just make sure everything we do is deliberate and that’s exactly right. If we keep trusting each other and the way we play, things will fall our way.”
Tietjens was in the same state of mind as his captain, Tim Mikkelson, took charge late in the first half, crossing once and then again halfway through the second stanza to put his side in front and seal the comeback.
“I was pleased with the composure and the patience we showed after going 17-0 down,” he said. “The conditions made the ball a little bit greasy so you had to look after it. But France played very, very well. It’s all about possession and we just couldn’t get it in the first half.
“We couldn’t get the kick-offs and they punished us. They had us under the pump. That’s sevens rugby now. It’s getting tough.
“These tournaments are about everyone contributing. I was really pleased with the composure of our younger guys for the first time on this big stage. To come away with a 19-17 win – not pretty but we’ll take it.”
Golden boy Sonny Bill Williams got his first taste of what the tournament is all about as the French ran riot early. The Rugby World Cup winner is still finding his way in the truncated game – and it showed with a dropped ball and a missed tackle before he was removed from the fray.
“The lungs were blowing but it was good. I’m just trying to get as much experience as I can out there,” he said.
“Hopefully we can build on that second half performance. I have confidence in my ability and I just need to keep getting out there on the field.”
Australia got their campaign off to the brightest of starts, rolling over Argentina 28-0 and confirming their status as the tournament’s dark horses.
Then, to top the madness off, England – hidden away from the public mostly and the media most definitely this week – came out in the night’s last game and stunned South Africa 21-14 to send the crowd once again into delirium.
The evening’s action had been kick-started by Sevens ambassador David Hasselhoff who led a chorus line out into the middle of the pitch and launched into a renditions of the Tom Jones classic Delilah that roused the 37,613 fans to their feet.
My, my, my, indeed.