Tim Noonan: England surging down the blind side
Many English fans had dismissed their team's chances before the event but things are starting to look up
So now what, England?
A whole stadium full of English folks were prepared to spend the weekend drowning their sorrows over their decidedly underwhelming sevens team.
While New Zealand, Australia and South Africa were fortifying their national sevens squads with some of the top union players in hopes of winning a medal at the upcoming summer Olympics in Rio, England added no one of note.
Sure there is a difference between 15-a-side rugby and sevens, but talent is still talent and while there is a promise of some of the better players coming out for England once their clubs release them, there is scant time left to indoctrinate them into sevens discipline.
Team England even imposed a media blackout all week in Hong Kong, which had more than a few Poms mumbling about the squad camouflaging their mediocrity.
They once ruled not only this fragrant harbour but this event as well, England did. Between 2002 and 2006 they won four of five titles and were finalists in 2011 and 2014.
But this year even the Yanks, who are two spots ahead of them and 19 points up in the Sevens World Series standings, are getting over on them. And this being an Olympic year it’s no time for a slip in form.
Compounding the English misery, even the pie man is long gone. But The Hoff is front-row centre at this year’s Sevens and his new TV series Hoff the Record is filmed in England, so there’s always that.
Come Friday night though their match-up against an in-form South Africa team, who were a mere one point behind Series leader Fiji and 47 points clear of England, looked ominous. Maybe it was their ancestral bond with Hong Kong and the raucous reception they always receive but something would propel them to one of their best performances of the year to date and a 21-14 victory.
Still most of the talk after day one was about Fiji’s miraculous escape against Canada and New Zealand’s near loss to France. Even after thumping Scotland 19-0 on Saturday afternoon, a victory that basically assures them of top spot in their pool and a place in the final eight of the Cup, the reaction to England has been lukewarm.
“Yeah, we were being kind of quiet here, no big noise and lurking under the radar, or at least we were before the South Africa game,” said long time Hong Kong resident Steve Terry, who is attending his 30th Sevens and has seen his beloved England through the highs and lows.
“But I really like the way this team is coming together and you shouldn’t believe all the gloom and doom. I always come into this event thinking England are going to win the big tournament and Hong Kong are going to win the junior one. New Zealand and Fiji have hardly looked dominant and we did beat a very good South Africa team so who knows.”
Yes indeed, who really does know? One thing we do know though is that the notion of England doing anything under the radar in Hong Kong is almost completely alien.
But considering the mediocre form union stars such as New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams and Australia’s “Honey Badger” Nick Cummins have shown so far this weekend, maybe England was right to leave some of their big boys home.
This is hardly the dynamo team led by captain Simon Amor, the current England coach, and talismanic playmaker Ben Gollings of some 10 years ago. That squad was loaded with pace and power up and down the line-up.
There was no sneaking under the radar back then and no mistaking the England fans in the crowd. They were far from quiet and rightfully so and while a medal at the Rio Olympics might be a long shot, it would hardly be shocking.
Disregard the Sevens series standings because even though they took their foot off the gas in a meaningless tie to Russia, for a handful of games at least it seems that England are back. And for better or worse, the roar is unmistakable - even if it did start with a murmur and a mumble.