Fourth Hong Kong Sevens is like winning the World Cup, say Fiji as Kenya victory brings relief to disaster-affected fans back home
The islanders claim a record fourth straight Hong Kong Sevens crown, their 18th overall, with a punishing 24-12 win over Kenya
First youth, then experience came at Fiji on Sunday. But sometimes in life there are bigger forces at play.
The islanders claimed a record fourth straight Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Rugby Sevens crown – and an 18th overall – with a punishing 24-12 win over Kenya.
Thoughts then immediately turned to the people back home still suffering after Cyclone Josie tore through the island nation last week – leaving four dead and a trail of destruction in its wake. With another huge storm looming, the Fijian camp had been focused on raising the spirits of sevens-mad countrymen through their efforts at the Hong Kong Stadium.
“We’ve talked about it all week – what we could do to lift the worries and stresses people are having in their lives – and I thought we did admirably this weekend,” said coach Gareth Baber.
“It’s fantastic to have done it for the people of Fiji and for those guys affected by the floods in Fiji.”
Sunday’s efforts surely helped do just that after Fiji were pushed hard by a South African squad full of that nation’s next generations of stars. It was 26-24 to Fiji when it ended but it could really have gone either way.
Then two yellow cards in the first half left Kenya with five on the field, and a Amenoni Nasilasila try and conversion at the death pushed Fiji to a 17-0 half-time lead that proved insurmountable.
“The semi-final was tough,” said Baber. “We knew South Africa would come at us. But we stuck to what our plan was and our plan was to come and win this one.”
Boos rang out around the stadium after the yellow cards – one for a Collins Injera trip on and one for a Willy Ambaka knock off the ball. And they continued intermittently throughout the game – a strange effect, when Fiji had the ball, given the way they are worshipped here in Hong Kong.
But no one cared by the end as captain Jerry Tuwai lifted the Cup and reflected on its meaning.
“The Hong Kong Sevens is like the World Cup in Fiji and four years in a row is like winning the World Cup,” said Tuwai.
Both Fiji and Kenya had come to Hong Kong packed full of the stars they hope will lead them into medal contention at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast next weekend.
Kenyan coach Innocent Simiyu was left looking at the positives in that regard.
“I think we performed pretty well throughout the tournament but the biggest challenge for us was the discipline in the final,” said Simiyu. “It wasn’t up to scratch. If it had been maybe there would have been a different outcome but no we will build up from the bottom again for the Commonwealth Games. We’ll take a lot from this going forward.”
So, too, will South Africa, a development squad that across the weekend showed some frightening flashes of the shape of things to come for the Blitzbok, what with the World Cup in San Francisco looming in July and then the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“I’m very proud of the young players,” said South African coach Marius Schoeman. “We had our chances against Fiji, but still ... We had an average age of 19-20 here. No one gave us a chance and we’ve got the bronze medal so it’s pretty fantastic. There’s a bright future for South African rugby for these players and I’m sure we see plenty of them again in the years ahead in Hong Kong.”
After pushing the Fijians to the very limit of their talents in the semi-finals they brushed a New Zealand development squad aside 29-7 in the third-place play-off – a results that ensured they held on to their lead in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Heading into the seventh of 10 legs in Singapore on the weekend of April 28-29, the South Africans are on 126 points to Fiji’s 123.