Gareth Baber's Fiji team racked up a fourth consecutive gold medal in the Sevens World Series by winning in London. With just Paris to come, the world title is theirs to lose
Fiji home in on Sevens World Series title
Midas will be eyeing Gareth Baber with envy. Victory in the London Sevens secured a fourth successive gold medal for the Welshman and his Fiji team, who thus stretched their lead at the top of the HSBC Sevens World Series table to seven points with just Paris to come. South Africa, beaten finalists at Twickenham, must now be considered an outside title bet having led the 2017-18 series for so long.
The final didn’t quite match the last-gasp drama of Fiji’s win in Singapore, but it remains a privilege to see sevens of such astounding quality. Fiji were under the pump early, losing outstanding forward Sevuloni Mocenacagi to the bin straight from the kick-off and falling behind to Stedman Gans’s try.
Baber’s men, however, are currently irrepressible. Josua Tuisova bulldozed through Siviwe Soyizwapi to level and Paula Dranisinukula completed a sublime team score.
Ruhan Nel, on early for the injured Werner Kok, replied but at the restart the long-striding Jasa Veremalua loped deep into Blitzboks territory and exchanged passes with Josua Vakurunabili for the try that put Fiji two scores ahead.
Zain Davids scored with enough time for one last play but Fiji gathered the restart and their army of noisy followers were able to celebrate.
“We’ve tried to emulate what South Africa did last year in terms of consistency,” said Baber. “They were fantastic last year and credit to them again here as they pushed us all the way. By the bounce of the ball it could have gone the other way.”
Aside from a couple of blips in Las Vegas, including a semi-final defeat to USA, Fiji have been invincible since their indifferent performance in Sydney in January.
Vancouver, Hong Kong, Singapore and now London – Fiji have racked up four successive tournament titles for the first time and in the process gone 25 successive matches unbeaten. Considering the fine margins of elite sevens, it’s a remarkable run.
The outrageous offloads and thumping tackles have been a trademark for years but to the great series-winning sides forged by former coach Ben Ryan appears to be even higher levels of fitness, which helps not only physically but with the crucial decision-making when things are getting tight.
And if Fiji needed a little luck they got it in their opening match on Saturday, when Argentina missed a penalty that would have taken them two scores clear with 90 seconds remaining.
Fiji came through that match 28-19, brushed Scotland aside 39-12 and then, a week after they tormented England in Barbarians colours, let Tuisova and Semi Radradra loose against New Zealand (27-7). Radradra was later awarded the Player of the Final prize.
In the knockout stage, Canada (40-7) and Ireland (40-7) were never likely to bar Fiji’s progress to the final and that pulsating clash with South Africa, who – make no mistake – are also producing exceptional rugby and still have a shout of the series title in Paris this weekend.
“It’s not over yet, we still have a chance and will not stop playing for this jersey till the very last play,” said Blitzboks captain Philip Snyman, whose cause wasn’t helped by injuries to Cecil Afrika and Branco du Preez on the first day.
WORLD SERIES STANDINGS
Position Team Points
1 Fiji 167
2 South Africa 160
3 New Zealand 133
4 Australia 118
5 USA 105
6 England 103
If Fiji and South Africa are head and shoulders above the rest right now, Ireland deserve equal plaudits for bagging the bronze medal on their first series appearance since 2004.
After squeezing through to the Cup quarter-finals on points difference – with Ireland, Wales and Spain all losing two of their three pool games – the Irish stunned USA 22-12 in the quarter-finals and hosts England in the bronze-medal match after a hat-trick by Jordan Conroy. Conroy’s pace was such that when he was put in space near his own line for what proved to be his second try, the English defence gave up the chase almost immediately.
The 24-year-old, who has excelled on the low-profile European series and plays his 15s rugby for Buccaneers in the All-Ireland League, finished with eight tries over the weekend – matching the figures of Dan Norton, Carlin Isles and Collins Injera.
Quite what Irish expectations were going into this tournament are hard to know, but the way the bench leapt up after Mark Roche’s winning touchline conversion against England was delightful to see. You wonder just what Ireland might be able to achieve if they can gain core-team status for the series.
England’s long wait for a home tournament win continues – they last won in London in 2009 – and there will be furrowed brows too in the USA camp with the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco some seven weeks away.
England coach Simon Amor said: “It was incredibly frustrating as there were times when we got some great rugby played together – we attacked well, we defended well – but there were also times we really got it quite wrong.”
Fiji’s next task is to emerge from a pool also containing New Zealand, Kenya and Samoa in Paris. Were South Africa to win the tournament, Fiji would need a semi-final place to clinch the series. The job is not done yet.