Alan Pearey reports from Singapore on Fiji’s triumph on the World Sevens Series
Fiji win Singapore Sevens
There was to be no third miracle. After shock triumphs for Kenya and Canada in the previous two editions of the HSBC Singapore Sevens, Fiji emerged from the usual suspects to take their fourth event title out of eight in this season’s World Sevens Series.
With just the London and Paris legs remaining, Fiji (145 points) have leapfrogged reigning champions South Africa (141) in the 2017-18 table. New Zealand (120) are third ahead of Australia (108), who came within a whisker of marking Tim Walsh’s debut as men’s coach with the Singapore crown.
Trailing 14-0 in the final, Australia responded magnificently under the inspirational John Porch and but for a knock-on in the closing moments would have scored the title-clinching try. Instead, from the final play, Fiji went the length for Alasio Sovita Naduva to bag a scintillating winner, 28-22.
“It was a good final, wasn’t it?” said Fiji’s Welsh coach Gareth Baber, with some understatement. “Entertaining, positive, lots of tries. Both teams really went at it and both teams put some risk into it. It wasn’t our best tournament but we managed to find a way.”
Sevens is always a game of fine margins but Fiji will give special thanks to the late missed touch-finder by New Zealand that allowed Amenoni Nasilasila to nick the first of the quarter-finals 24-19. Then, in the semi-final, Fiji found themselves foundering against a superb South African defence in which Werner Kok and Selvyn Davids were especially heroic.
The Blitzboks, deprived of the injured Kyle Brown and Rosko Specman on the opening day, almost saw the job through but Eroni Sau broke the dam and Fiji scraped through 12-10.
Australia’s defeat of New Zealand on day one pushed the big guns into one half of the draw and England were of a mind to capitalise. They won all their pool games and squeezed past Samoa in the quarter-finals, only to come up short in the semi against Australia. The Aussies chose to see out the 15-7 win with a rare kicked penalty; ironically, England had tried the same tactic against Samoa but skipper Tom Mitchell’s effort had gone wide.
Still, England recovered to finish a creditable third by beating South Africa 26-24. Mike Ellery completed a superb team try to decide the tie and give England their joint-best finish of the series, matching the bronze medal they achieved in Dubai last year.
“We’re pleased to take home the bronze medal but above all the heart, the fight and the work ethic of this group of players right across the weekend in some pretty tough conditions was fantastic,” said coach Simon Amor.
“This weekend has demonstrated the importance of the depth of our squad, particularly with young players like Charlton Kerr coming through – we’re really pleased for him and how he performed.”
Scotland, very much in a development phase this season, can trouble anyone but missed conversions contributed to them coming out the wrong side of some close encounters. They finished by losing 33-12 to USA in a Trophy semi-final and now lie tenth in the table.
“Fatigue does funny things and we put ourselves under pressure,” said coach John Dalziel of his Scotland squad, which has been away for more than four weeks. “But tournament by tournament we’re seeing growth from what is a really competitive tough group of players.”
Only Russia separate Wales from the bottom of the table and Welsh woes were compounded by simultaneous stretcher injuries for Ethan Davies and Cai Devine in their Trophy quarter-final against Japan. Davies faces a probable four-to-six-week layoff with suspected ankle ligament damage while Devine was taken to hospital after a throat injury.
“You always get a tournament like this,” said coach Gareth Williams after Wales’ tournament ended with defeat by Canada in the Trophy semi-finals. “Daf Smith did his hamstring yesterday too so we were down to nine. The boys did really against Canada and we could have snuck it at the end.”
Williams will take Wales to the Sevens World Cup in July before taking up a new role at the WRU as head coach of transitional players.
USA star Perry Baker was another injury casualty at the weekend, damaging his shoulder whilst scoring a try, but he’s expected to be fit by the World Cup, if not the London leg of the series at the start of June. In his absence, Carlin Isles demonstrated the scorching pace for which he is renowned when scoring hat-tricks against Argentina and Scotland.
Kyle Brown, who will definitely miss the World Cup after knee ligament damage, could be spotted, crutches in hand, signing autographs near the players’ tunnel. The player-fan engagement on the series is always a delight to behold and this tournament did much to enhance Singapore’s reputation as a world-class sevens venue and occasion.
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Pharaohs, pirates, policemen and even sauce bottles were some of the fancy-dress options on view and the 55,000-capacity National Stadium was rocking all weekend. Yet equally no tournament on the series does more to embrace families, with 20% of tickets sold this year being family packages.
“They’ve worked really hard in Singapore to get that balance,” said DJ Forbes, the former New Zealand Sevens captain who hopes to embark on a coaching career. “There’s obviously a party aspect to sevens whereas the purists come for the rugby. There’s been a whole carnival atmosphere and lots of activities, and there’s been a real good turnout.”
That turnout included the great Fijian player Waisale Serevi, who was there to give Gareth Baber a big hug as the Fijians celebrated their third successive tournament title. The momentum is with them but South Africa are bang in the mix. All we can say for now is buckle in because the Sevens World Series is heading for an enthralling finale.
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