Fiji slam Samoa in Sevens opener – and no body count needed much to Baber’s relief
Hong Kong Sevens champions come through opening night against fierce rivals with flying colours and all players intact
It took all of 24 seconds for Fiji to make their intentions at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens crystal clear.
Eroni Sau was the man who crossed the line for that first try and the islanders went on to down Samoa 31-12 as they look to win the event for a record fourth straight time and an 18th time in total.
There were flashes all game of what makes this team special – and so loved in Hong Kong – with Amenoni Nasilasila’s second-half try the pick of the goodies on offer as he shifted right, then left and then over as the Samoans grasped at air.
But there was room for improvement, too, as the Samoans took the game to the champions in the second half.
Coach Gareth Baber cast a pleased but cautious figure by game’s end, having made five substitutions in the second half as he looked to give his squad a workout ahead of a Saturday that sees New Zealand looming large in the evening.
“When you get these two teams against each other sometimes by the end you need to do a body count but we all survived,” said Baber.
“So I am pleased with that. I am pleased with what we delivered as well. We talked about bringing pace to the game and we talked about bringing power and when you get those combinations going at the right time you are going to put the opposition under pressure and they make errors.
“I thought we could be a little bit tighter sometimes when we didn’t have the ball. But it’s the first game against local rivals and we knew it was going to physical.”
The Kiwis have seven players making their Hong Kong Sevens debut this week but they seem to have taken to the event instantly, marching over Russia 36-5. The star of that particular show was the hulking Joe Ravouvou – himself a debutant here last year – with two tries.
Baber said he did not know too much about Saturday’s opponents, but vowed to hit the tapes and scrub up on his homework.
“The big thing with them is unpredictability,” said Baber. “When you play against an opposition on the circuit like we do normally with New Zealand you know what they do. But this group are new so I’ll have to have a good search to see how they play the game.
“First and foremost though we have to concentrate on delivering like we did tonight and if we keep doing that things are going to be OK.”
With some nations’ attention focused on next week’s Commonwealth Games sevens tournament in Australia, there is a distinct focus on youth at Hong Kong Stadium this week. And Friday night gave fans their first-ever look at many of the players involved here this year.
England have included four players making their World Series debuts and they were pipped by battle-hardened Scotland 22-19, despite an impressive performance from rising 19-year-old star Callum Sirker.
There are also plenty of new faces in the South African and Australian squads and their results on opening night were mixed.
World Series leaders South Africa waltzed past South Korea (45-0) – more will be known about them after they face Scotland and England on Saturday.
Meanwhile the Aussies, who have not won in Hong Kong for 30 years – were overrun late, losing to Spain 17-12.
Coach Friday unhappy despite USA clawing back France in thrilling opener
USA coach Mike Friday was left to rue some poor early ball handling and some refereeing he labelled questionable as his team snatched a 24-24 draw with France right at the death on Friday night.
“Some interesting interpretations of when the tackle is completed and at the breakdown which I am upset about but, look, with what we had to deal with out there we still found a way to keep ourselves in this competition,” said the Englishman.
Friday had warned before play had begun that he considered pool D a minefield given that it boasted the full-strength French and Argentina who, like the Americans, need not concern themselves with the Commonwealth Games sevens competition which will be staged next weekend.
As if taking that cue, the French flew from the first whistle with tries to Pierre Gilles Lakafia and Manoel Dall Igna and a Jean Pascal Barraque conversion giving them a 12-0 lead with five minutes gone.
A try to Folau Niua kept the Americans in the game but for much of the time they looked a little lost and scrappy play never allowed them to get any kind of rhythm going at all.
That scenario pretty much played out until there was only two minutes left on the clock in the second half by which time the French had stretched their lead to 19 points. But the penny then suddenly dropped and the Americans finished all over their opponents, catching them when Carlin Isles dove over after the French had seen Paul Bonnefond sin-binned for rough play.
“There are a lot of things we can’t control but the fact of the matter is for the first five or six minutes there were just too many errors from us,” said Friday.
“Forcing offloads, forcing passes, rather than sticking to our simple attacking patterns. That’s the lesson we have got to learn for tomorrow.”
So it was points shared and a lot of thinking ahead for Friday and his charges after the Argentines – twice beaten Cup finalists already this season – had earlier crushed Wales 31-10 in an impressive display.
Much has been expected of the Americans this week, having won the Las Vegas leg of the World Series for this first time last month and having the likes of Isles and fellow flier Perry Baker in top form.
Friday will no doubt be happy enough they both scored in their opening workout and the American machine had grinded through the gears. But there is plenty of work left ahead if they are to beat Argentina and Wales to top the group, a fact Friday acknowledged.
“I said coming in nothing is ever easy at the Hong Kong Sevens,” said the coach. “So not very happy with some things but we didn’t make life easy for ourselves early either. But we’re still in it.”