Close shave for Baber as champions Fiji sneak into the Hong Kong Sevens quarter-finals
Olympic champions ride their fortune to progress to a meeting with Canada, while World Series leaders South Africa have showdown with All Blacks Sevens
History will show 16-time champions Fiji topped their pool but the islanders rode their fortune on the way to the quarter-finals of this year’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
A 17-17 draw against unfancied Wales, a result determined by Osea Kolinisau’s remarkable conversion miss from bang in front at the death, and then a forward pass that denied New Zealand – again with the clock running down – saw Fiji win their final pool game 17-14.
That they needed to win that last game to make 100 per cent sure they would advance to the Cup quarters pumped up the tension, as did the handling errors that have plagued them this year – and the improving menace presented by the Kiwis.
Fiji coach Gareth Baber looked a relieved man afterwards, and would later no doubt have been warmed by the fact that the win meant they now dodge HSBC Sevens World Series leaders South Africa in the quarter-finals, and instead start warm favourites against Canada.
Baber admitted to having charted out a best-case scenario for his team before a whistle had been blown.
“Sometimes you can look a little bit ahead to see what’s coming up,” said Baber. “You’ve got to know your enemy.
“But ultimately you’ve also got to know yourself very well, as well. Going through tournaments like this where you don’t have everything go your own way is a sure-fire way of getting to know yourself.”
New Zealand had lost veteran Tim Mikkelson to injury earlier in the day – after skipper Scott Curry had pulled out with illness before the event – but coach Scott Waldrom brushed off their losses.
“I believe the team’s good enough to win it and when we get it right we do look good, but unfortunately if we keep making mistakes we’re not going to,” said Waldrom.
The Kiwis now face a South African side who have warmed to the task after a nervy win over the French on Friday night. They conceded points but were never seriously threatened on Saturday in beating Kenya (35-10) and Canada (26-7).
“We ask for the guys to take a step up every time we get back on the field and we achieved that today,” said coach Neil Powell.
“It’s never easy against New Zealand and they have been improving over the last few tournaments. We’ll have a good look at their games and I’ll come up with a plan.”
Any time you throw England and Australia together you can expect fireworks. So it played out once again as the Aussies claimed bragging rights with a 12-10 victory earlier in the afternoon that saw them unbeaten and atop pool A.
“You always want to beat the Poms, don’t you,” said coach Andy Friend. “Momentum is important. I thought it was a great game of footy – really competitive. Both teams wanted it. We went down right on the bell to them in Vegas and we held on out there.”
Australia had rolled England in the quarters here last year and the game plan was much the same – keep it tight, and physical.
“That tends to be our go. In a funny way be probably take to it a bit too much,” said Friend. “Our boys like the physical contest and I thought we won that battle today.”
The Aussies now face Argentina, while England front up against the unbeaten USA, who topped pool D.
The real positive for England was the fact Simon Amor has been able to spread the load amongst his squad, with the 19-year-old Charlton Kerr a shining light.
“It’s why we’ve been able to keep a consistently fit squad – sharing the game time,” said Amor. “Hopefully the guys are a little bit fresher than some of the others going into the games tomorrow. I’m really proud of him [Kerr]. He was still at school seven months ago.”