HSBC London Sevens: Fiji Bundled Out In Pool Stages, as Kiwis Fly-high

HSBC London Sevens Day One
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It was a picture perfect Twickenham Stadium that awaited the series finale of the World Rugby Sevens Series. It had the thrills and spills which entertained the massive crowd present at the HSBC London Sevens. With Fiji was bundled out in Pool stages, South Africa succumbing to the United States and more–another example of the close battles ahead.

London picked up the rhythm early, the crowd were on their feet enjoying every minute as things unfolded from game one. The drama, the heartache, the joys and sorrows of Day One was all absorbed by the huge crowd. The Kiwis were flying-high, as were the ‘hometown kids’ England. All teams vied for the Cup quarter-finals, with plenty more to look forward to in Day Two action.

HSBC London Sevens: Teams Upset on Day One

Fiji will feature in the Challenge Trophy; or the bottom tier of the competition on Day Two, for the first time since 2014. Admittedly, they and their fans don’t like being at the bottom, and after 2014 they recovered from that lower placing to win back-to-back series titles, and the Gold Medal in Rio.

Fiji are rebuilding and they will be back stronger and more committed next season. However, their senior boys need a long rest to regain form, as they looked lethargic and lost in their games–although Josua Vakurunaibuli had an outstanding debut. On the other hand, Samu Bale has found the world stage a little hard to handle, missing crucial tackles that led to their losses against the Maple Leafs and Kiwis.

Scotland have a tough way ahead on Day Two, to defend their 2016 title. England looks set to book second place, as the Kiwis chase their first title of the season. Underdogs United States, Canada and Argentina could each rewrite the history books too, so before we face Day Two, here is your Lowdown.

Day One: The LOWDOWN

Pool A – South Africa, United States, Wales, Kenya

United States bounced back from their early loss to Wales, to humble the newly crowned series champions South Africa 24-12. It was a huge step-up from the Americans and showed real character. They won in London in 2015, so could it be there year again? Coach Mike Friday had this to say to;

“After that first game, I wasn’t shouting and hollering – it was more looking into their eyes and saying ‘if you want to be men, this is what you have to do’.

“I’m really proud of how they bounced back – you need resilience in this competition and they showed real character which is what you have to do.”

The Americans top Pool A, with the Blitzboks second. However, don’t forget the Africans lost too in Pool stages last weekend but recovered to blow their opposition away!.

Kenya and Wales head to the Challenge Trophy on Day Two, and more to work on before next season.

Pool A results: USA 12 Wales 28  |South Africa 12 Kenya 10 | USA 47 Kenya 0 | South Africa 12 Wales 10 | Wales 17 Kenya 28 | South Africa 12 USA 24

Pool B – Scotland. France, Argentina, Russia

Argentina is the surprise package in London, as they topped Pool B with Scotland in second place. Scotland was given a reality check early by a determined French side (without Julien Candelon and Virimi Vakatawa). That significant 12-17 loss to the French handed the Los Pumas the bragging rights, and a berth in the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco.

The Pumas are looking for a good finish to the season, and as for the Bravehearts, well they are still hoping to defend their 2016 title. France and Russia go to the bottom tier where the Olympics champs await.

It will be interesting on how things will unfold for Argentina and Scotland on Day Two, and some who supported the Fijians may now ‘back Los Pumas’ as fairy tale favourites.

Pool B results: France 7 Argentina 35 Scotland 21 Russia 7 | France 26 Russia 20 | Scotland 26 Argentina 19 | Argentina 26 Russia 19 | Scotland 12 France 17

Pool C – England, Samoa, Australia, Spain

England set aside the challenge from their Oceania opponents Australia and Samoa, to easily top Pool C. The Samoans gave their all in the final game against the hosts, but the English kept their cool to win 24-19. It will be the Aussies and the English going through to the Cup quarters.

Samoa will head to the Challenge Trophy along with Spain. They have more to work on if they want to finish on a high though, as all those teams fear a ‘wounded Fijian side’ who will be looking for redemption down in the bottom tier.

Pool C results: Samoa 5 Australia 34 England 28 Spain 7 | Samoa 40 Spain 7 | England 19 Australia 12 | Australia 50 Spain 0 | England 24 Samoa 19

Pool D – New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, Japan

Fiji was unceremoniously bundled out in the Pool stages here in London, after decimating losses to Canada and New Zealand. They were caught in all aspects of the game, as missed tackles cost them games. Fiji coach Gareth Baber has had a rough season and this result will make for sad reading back in Fiji. The masses will be calling for a shake-up, they will not like seeing their Olympic heroes in the bottom tier of any tournament.

New Zealand and Canada had a good hunting day in Pool D. Dethroning Fiji is not an easy thing, but you treasure these moments–as they hardly come by often. In fact, New Zealand keeps their record of not featuring in the bottom tier however, can they keep up their record of winning a tournament in every season of the series? NZ fans will hope so…can the boys maintain their finals momentum.

Stand-outs in Pool D were Justin Douglas; who was outstanding for Canada, along with the ‘Shadowhunter’ Lewis Ormond of New Zealand. To his credit, senior player John Moonlight (see below) picked up his 100th sevens series try, A real warrior in red.

On the other hand, Japan bids goodbye to the series. They have always played with passion (even when on the end of a 60 point thrashing by Fiji) and on a positive note; Siasifo Lisala continues to impress.

Pool D Results: Fiji 19 Canada 22 New Zealand 33 Japan 7 | Fiji 61 Japan 5 | New Zealand 19 Canada 14 | Canada 28 Japan 14 | New Zealand 27 Fiji 21

HSBC London Sevens Day Two Fixtures:

Cup Quarter-finals – the Kiwis head in on a high, and in matching against Scotland, the likelihood is that the winner here is probably headed towards a finals berth. Australia will need to work hard to get past Team USA, as will Argentina, but LWOR would love for one of the underdogs to go far on Day Two.

The key fixture is England v South Africa. While the motivation is high for the hometown men, but it will take more for the 2016/17 champions to ‘rise up’ one more time. That will show their champion heart, even at the expense of the ‘swing low, sweet chariot’ singing fans in London.

Challenge Trophy Quarterfinals:

Fiji v Russia | France v Japan | Samoa v Wales | Kenya v Spain

Will the Bravehearts Defend Their Title?

The Scots may have an uphill battle to defending their title, but they will go all out to get it. South Africa can always turn up on Day Two, as have the English over this season [winners in Africa]. However, the underdogs look good too, to do some real damage at the HSBC London Sevens.

The lowdown is that the tournament is ‘up for any team to grab’ now, with Fiji failing to make the top eight. But still, our senior editor Scott Hornell says “watch out for the NZ 7’s. They need this win big time” and that may their chance to make something out of a poor 2016/17 HSBC Sevens Series.

“Main photo credit”