Fiji earn inaugural Hamilton 7s Title as Fans return to NZ Sevens

Fiji earn inaugural Hamilton 7s Title, as Fans return to NZ Sevens

It was an fine return to form for the New Zealand Sevens, as the event introduced a new change of venue. A weekend that saw fans return to NZ Sevens after a drop off in patronage from the longtime venue of Wellington.

For the ‘revived’ tournament winners, Fiji earned the inaugural Hamilton 7s title after a terrific tussle with South Africa. It was a unique position, as Fiji had also won the very first Wellington 7s event champions too. But the challenge in 2018 was much more difficult. But yet again, the perennial favourites overcame the fierce competition, to win 24-17 over the current HSBC Sevens Series title holders.

The crowd at a rugby sevens contest are both unique and enthusiastic. Most come dressed up, and support their regular favourite teams–but always cheer for the most entertaining.

This weekend was no different, with the Hamilton 7s a SELL OUT. A successful NZ Sevens too; more for the action on the field, but as much as for the 24,000-plus fans who watched a superb cup finale.

Fiji earn inaugural Hamilton 7s title, as fans return to NZ Sevens

After the opening Day One which saw mostly predictable results; aside from Scotland securing a quarterfinal placing, the knockout stages was where the recognized premier sides advanced. Although teams like Argentina, Kenya and Samoa were finding great support, the cream rose highest at the NZ Sevens leg.

Entering the semifinal matches, they were extremely closely fought encounters, but Fiji and South Africa seemed destined to face off in yet another Cup final.

Cup Final Match: South Africa 17 Fiji 24

When that match began, an early Fiji yellow card would seem to give the Blitzboks the initial advantage. With Kwagga Smith crossing to show his incredible cross-code value [he had been unfit for Day One, but proved his value on Day Two]. The early points were easiest for the Blitzboks, Kyle Brown scoring as well, to put the Fijians under immense pressure. When Cecil Africa fed Branco du Preez clean ball, it gave the champions a 17-5 advantage during the break.

South Africa are an attacking side, but in holding the lead for sometime, they went away from that focus. And given an opportunity, Jerry Tuwai and his side started their response. “Go Fiji Go!” echoed from the huge support-base and that was the motivation desired by the Gareth Baber coached side. First, an Alasio Sovita Naduva try got them back on a roll.

Fans turning up to the 2018 New Zealand Sevens at FMG Stadium on February 3, 2018 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

They now benefitted from an African yellow card, when du Preez was judged to have made a late hit. The referees all weekend had been tough on high tackles and tiny infringements. In many of the two sides encounters, tries against the other are hard to achieve. So the earlier Blitzbok pressure was corrected by the Fijians with a man advantage.

Even at six men, Werner Kok almost sent his team down into the Fijian territory, but counter rucking from Tuwai opened up the field for Rovauvau to hand off a lovely ball, and Naduva scored his second.

“One of those weekends that you don’t want the action to end” – SkySports commentator Tony Johnston.

Second half Magic from Fiji, as Blitzboks make mistakes

With their tails up, Fiji parked themselves in the Blitzbok half. And two uncharacteristic mistakes from the Sevens Series leaders gave more hope to Fijian fans. Brown dropped a kick restart, and then within 17 meters off their own tryline, Seabelo Senatla held the ball in the tackle.

That was all the encouragement needed, and after crossing the field, the ball came back to the left corner, for Eroni Sau to cross for his fifth try of the weekend. His most important, and it was now a seven point advantage.

With all fairness to Neil Powell and his South African side, they could not stop the Fiji juggernaut once it built up full speed.

Bronze Medal Match – New Zealand 7 Australia 8

Less matches are won in a sevens tournament game by penalty kick, than golf players getting a hole in one. It is never heard of, but the trans-Tasman rivals were equal in tries scored. It was a neck-and-neck battle, where not even the superstars like Vilimoni Koroi or John Porch could not add their magic touch.

Coming down to the wire, the crowd were wishing for a Kiwi team escape – they had achieved it against Argentina and against England – yet the cruelest of finishes stopped the crowd quick-smart. They knew it was appropriate, as the home team were not as sharp as they might have. Yet a penalty was a harsh end, to a wonderful contest.

Of note, Australian grit is an aspect that they hold in excess. Tough, but also excellent at being ready to transition from defence to attack. That assisted them, until the Blitzbok outwitted them. But the Aussie men are getting close to peaking….could that be at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games?

Challenge Trophy win builds US Sides Confidence

Mike Friday has to be the most animated coach during the halftime team ‘chats’. His voice is loud, but precise. And his team, who are big and (mostly) precise will be more confident now, after collecting the Challenge Trophy.

They did not manage to reach the Cup playoffs, a draw with Kenya ending that road. But for Team USA, the journey was not over. They showed faith, and they defeated Spain before having to face down the ‘darlings’ of the tournament, Papua New Guinea.

Winning 42-12 showed that this side could overcome the shear enthusiasm which PNG brought. Managing to control their emotions, the United States team have refined their team work. Looking to develop those skills further, this weekend they performed well; considering Madison Hughes was absent due to injury.

When the HSBC Sevens Series hits Las Vegas, as well as the roulette wheel turning, the luck of Mike Friday could well be turning.

NZ Sevens Day Two results:

Cup Quarterfinals: Fiji 14 New Zealand 12 | Australia 5 South Africa 24

Challenge Trophy semifinal: USA 42 Papua New Guinea 12 | Canada 12 Argentina 14

A good weekend for Samoa, who defeated Kenya 19-15 for fifth place. They had also defeated England 22-17, so Sir Gordon Tietjens will be impressed that his troops have got themselves in a good headspace. Only going down 12-10 against Fiji in the quartefinals, with some strong support in the States, Samoa could be the one to watch in Vegas.

LWOR Hamilton 7s Dream Team

As the four leading sides all assumed the Cup semifinal positions, it is no coincidence that the HSBC squad would hold all those names. While they entertained many, as the fans return to NZ Sevens, the LWOR team might question why a name like Gairo Kapana is not included.

The Papua New Guinea tryscorer was a sensation. Those qualities should be recognized, so for LWOR, Kapana get’s a top-rating for our Dream Team.

The outcome favoured the top ranked teams. With the rewards assisting Fiji clamber up the standings, with a small glimmer of light for the fans of Fiji rugby sevens – and at the Hamilton 7s, they nearly outnumbered the home town fans.

Four different teams proves two things. It is hard to win on the 2017/18 World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series, and …… it is EXTREMELY hard to win more than once on the World Series.

Could that factor be the difference when teams are reaching the final leg of this championship? Points are always crucial. Finish outside of the Cup final, and you are tracking backward. New Zealand will feel that, although Fiji still have a long way to go.

Teams now break before the North American legs. It will invariably be another fascinating tournament. Just as the Hamilton leg has been. The flavour, colour and enjoyment has returned, as fans return to NZ Sevens.

While not significant enough to prove that the event is rejuvenated–but it is a great start!


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