2018 London 7s: Halfway home

Some Fiji fans at the London 7s. Picture: JEREMY DUXBURY

DESPITE some early morning nerves that so nearly saw the Fiji 7s team fall to Argentina in their opening match of the London 7s, the HSBC 7s Series leaders upped their game as the day progressed and finished with a fine and physical 27-7 victory over New Zealand to top Pool A.

They will face Canada in Sunday’s Cup Quarter-finals.

The earlier 28-19 win against the Pumas and the 39-12 thrashing of Scotland means that Gareth Baber’s team have now won an unprecedented 22 matches in a row as they work towards extending their Series lead over South Africa before the season finale in Paris next week.

“We started a little bit slowly this morning as sometimes happens with us,” the coach admitted. “Argentina pushed us all the way, created some pressure in the game, and we didn’t control it.”

Indeed, the South Americans not only butchered a simple try in the first half but led 19-14 with less than two minutes left on the clock and had a penalty kick right in front of the posts. If successful, the kick would have left Fiji needing two more scores in 90 seconds to win. But Gaston Revol skewed his kick to the left, Baber made a couple of quick substitutions, and from the dropout 22 Waisea Nacuqu ran away to score under the posts just seconds after coming onto the field.

“I thought we learned something from that,” Baber admitted. “Then against Scotland, who I think are a really good side and play some good 7s, use the width of the field, we managed to see them off in the last two or three minutes really, and some substitutions were also key in that.”

After tasting a few minutes of play in the second half of the opening game, big Semi Radrodro made the starting line-up against Scotland and clicked straight into the set-up with a delightful try down the right flank. Fellow France-based professional Josua Tuisova made another appearance off the bench then showed his worth with two tries and some thumping hits against New Zealand.

“We probably saved the best till last, we created pressure in the game and got the New Zealanders to turn the ball over three or four times – that’s what happens when you get that momentum in a game and it’s very difficult to shift it back. I thought we did well.”

Are Tuisova and Radrodro in the squad with one eye on the World Cup in San Francisco in July?

“Yes, absolutely. We need to finish this Series strongly, but this is a potential avenue towards the World Cup as well. You can’t just drop players into a group that has been competing the way it has for the last year. The core players were always aware that there was talent out there in Europe that we would look to bring into the group. I’m impressed with their response, they have embraced it and understood it. They know it’s not just about them, it’s about the team, and the team ethic is stronger than the individual.”

Baber also touched on the fitness required for 7s over 15s.

“The conditioning element is always the biggest hurdle when taking players from 15s back to 7s. But in that last pool game versus New Zealand, it was all about physicality, and Radrodro and Tuisova were right up for it.”

In other action at Twickenham, Samoa held on impressively to defeat the BlitzBokke 21-12, though sadly this didn’t earn Gordon Tietjens’s team a place in the Cup Quarters.

Hosts England had a brief scare after losing 31-14 to Mike Friday’s USA but recovered well to repel Kenya 38-12 in the final act of a glorious day’s play. Simon Amor’s team now face an unbeaten Australian side in the knockout stages

Ireland became the first non-core team to reach the Cup quarters since Japan in 2016 in Las Vegas; their solitary 38-10 defeat of Spain being just enough to get through on points difference. On Sunday, Ireland starts against the United States with the winners facing either Fiji or Canada in the semi-finals.

Though Fiji entertained the huge crowd with deft handling, round-the-back offloads, and thumping tackles, Baber knows that no Series points are won on the first day.

“The Quarter-final stages are always tough,” he noted. “The teams that recover the quickest overnight are the ones in a position mentally to go and win.”

“We talked about winning six finals; we’ve got ourselves through three and we know we now have another three to win if we want to achieve the goals we set ourselves for this weekend.”

London 7s Cup Quarter-finals:

Fiji v Canada
USA v Ireland
South Africa v New Zealand
Australia v England