Auckland, May 29, 2019
Fiji are the new leaders of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and will take a two-point lead over USA to the final event in Paris.
It all came down to the final match at Twickenham after the Americans sealed third place at the London7s, with Fiji knowing that a defeat would leave their rivals still at the summit with one round to go.
If there were any nerves, they certainly were not apparent in the Cup final as Fiji romped to a 43-7 success.
The Botitu magic
Vilimoni Botitu set Fiji off to a flyer and a steal from the restart ended with Aminiasi Tuimaba taking two Australians over the line with him.
Australia had no answer to Fiji’s passing with sublime offloading paving the way for Tuimaba to complete his hat-trick before the break.
Joe Pincus gave Australia brief hope but a line-out error enabled Josua Vakurunabili to pile over and restart the procession. Alasio Naduva flew over in the corner then powered through for Fiji’s seventh try of a spectacular finale.
Fiji Head Coach Gareth Baber said: “Obviously we found it tough in the first four or five minutes when Australia put something in – we knew they’re a good side and a tough side to play against – so we knew that we needed to get some scores on the board, and we did it with some style.”
HSBC Player of the Final Meli Derenalagi added: “We had lots of work-outs from day one, so we tried to improve on day two and our main focus was to come and win. All the supporters from around the world uplift us and motivate us to come and give our best.”
Field Day for Australia
Australia’s day began with a thrilling success against South Africa in a quarter-final that spawned five first-half tries. Henry Hutchison and Ben O’Donnell struck after the interval to see the Australians home 29-22. Mick McGrath’s two early tries threatened a huge upset for Ireland against Fiji in their last-eight meetings, but 28 unanswered points tipped the scales. The Irish refused to lie down, though, as Jordan Conroy and Ian Fitzpatrick brought them back into contention. Billy Dardis’ trip to the sin-bin proved pivotal – Asaeli Tuivuaka driving down the line to ensure Fiji progressed.
In the semi-finals, Lachie Anderson set the tone for Australia by touching down after eight seconds but France hit back as Samuel Alerte produced an unbelievable pass out the back of the hand and Stephan Parez took it in.
Australia responded by going to another level. Hutchison and Simon Kennewell scampered in before Maurice Longbottom scored for the fifth game in a row.
France threatened a great escape but Lewis Holland’s kick through was gathered by Josh Coward and Tim Walsh’s men prevailed.
Fiji against USA in the semifinals promised to be a classic and it certainly delivered.
Perry Baker popped up for Martin Iosefo to dot down but Fiji quelled the early storm and Tuimaba wheeled away to edge them ahead. Derenalagi somehow managed to ground the ball while being shoved towards touch but Kevon Williams weaved his way through to bring the States back within two with 90 seconds left. Fiji soaked it up, though, and as USA looked for the steal Vakurunabili was in space to end it.
Fiji moved onto 164 points with USA two back. New Zealand sit third with 143 and South Africa are fourth with 131. USA, Fiji and New Zealand sealed qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on day one and South Africa have all but joined them, needing simply to take the field in Paris to confirm their place.
USA Secure Bronze
With every point potentially vital heading to Paris, USA secured third place with a dominant display against France. Folau Niua burrowed past three France players to set them on their way but Danny Barrett stole the show in the first half, bulldozing his way through twice to make it 19-0 at the break. Maceo Brown and Steve Tomasin joined the party to set Mike Friday’s men up nicely for the Paris showdown for the title with a 31-14 stroll.
France vs New Zealand
France had never beaten New Zealand in back-to-back matches but they sensationally broke that duck in the quarter-finals despite being 14-0 down at the break. Stephen Parez and Pierre Gilles Lakafia brought them within touching distance but they remained two points down heading into the final play.
Terry Bouhraoua burst through and, as he looked to play the killer pass, Joe Webber swiped it away to concede a penalty try – cue ecstasy in the French ranks! Baker helped himself to two tries as USA eased past Canada 29-14 in their quarter-final.
Fifth for New Zealand
Terry Kennedy gave Ireland an early lead, but it was all New Zealand thereafter as the All Blacks 7s celebrated their qualification for the Tokyo Olympics with a 35-14 win. Tone Ng Shiu and Joe Ravouvou both touched down in either half or Regan Ware iced the cake late on.
Muller du Plessis struck twice in the first half as South Africa reminded everyone of their day one form during their fifth-placed semi-final with New Zealand. But, in a match of five lead changes, it was the All Blacks 7s who squeezed through with Tim Mikkelson clinging on to the final offload of the game. Canada were 14-7 ahead of Ireland at half-time in their semi-final meeting but were blown away after half-time with Bryan Mollen scoring one and setting up another, and Kennedy running in two tries.
Samoa Win the Challenge Trophy
It was first blood to Samoa in the final via David Afamasaga, but Scotland seized their chance with Alamanda Motuga in the sin-bin through Max McFarland. The teams traded four more tries with Joe Perez and Nyle Godsmark swapping first before Elisapeta Alofipo eased between the posts and Robbie Fergusson tip-toed in. Afamasaga nipped through a tired defence in the dying seconds to seal Samoa’s success.
Luciano Gonzalez had kicked off day two with a hat-trick in Argentina’s 28-19 win against Spain and Samoa joined them in the last four when Perez struck in extra time against six-man England. Wales ground out a 17-0 victory against relegation-threatened Japan while Jamie Farndale mustered two tries as Scotland saw off Kenya 29-21.
Samoa versus Argentina was a semi-final punctuated by penalties; tries from John Vaili and Alofipo proved sufficient to nudge the former into the decider. Scotland were majestic in their last-four assignment, Farndale becoming their fourth player ever to reach 100 tries on the series with the final act of a 33-7 cruise.
England defeated Spain in the 13th-place semi-final while Japan scored a crucial 26-17 victory over relegation rivals Kenya. The Japanese carried that momentum on against the hosts, beating them for the first time in history by a convincing 29-14.
Those results leave Japan (25) just two points adrift of Kenya heading to Paris while Wales (30) are far from safe as well.
Sheevas Dayal is Indian Newslink Rugby Correspondent. He lives in Auckland.