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The good, the bad, the referees

Kameli Rakoko
Monday, December 18, 2017

BEATING United States of America and England to win fifth place play-off were the highlights of Gareth Baber's Fiji Airways 7s campaign in the first leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series.

For fans who stayed up to watch, they enjoyed a feast of Fijian magic at its best.

The hits, the tries and combination were spectacular and even though Fiji ended the tournament without a title, they continued to build the foundation for future victories.

Tuwai led the Fijians in a fightback to redeem themselves for letting the big one get away after having snared the South Africans hook, line and sinker.

South African coach Neil Powell said if "I get three other matches like that I will grow old very fast."

Fiji beat England 19-12 in the semi-finals after a determined run by Yasawa flyer Eroni Sau to score the winner and even England's try scoring record holder, Dan Norton could not catch him.

In the final they shut out USA 26-12 in an exciting battle.

Controlling the breakdowns is Fiji's main weakness, an area to work very hard on and experts like Rev Joji Rinakama, Senirusi Seruvakula and top referees should be brought in to fix the problem because it has been there since Dubai 2016.

Two rucks in Dubai and two rucks in Cape Town gave South Africa the wins in the semi-finals and quarter-finals respectively. The rucks are South Africa's trump card and even though they did not cross swords with Fiji in the Rio Olympics they had the best statistic winning 2.8 per cent rucks per match while Fiji won the highest of opponent's rucks with 28 per cent according to World Rugby analysis.

Of tries scored against Fiji in Dubai and Cape Town, the majority and decisive ones were those that came from penalties in breakdowns inside or near their own 22-metre area.

So, we should stay off and concentrate on one-to-one marking in defence in those situations, but we can afford to contest and try to turn over balls in the other half while on attack. The fitness level will have to go a notch higher as some were carrying extra baggage and behind a pace or two. The Sigatoka sand dunes beckons Tuwai's men.

The confrontational approach works when we play against speedy teams such as South Africa and Australia. Against teams like Canada, the strategy of avoiding contact, distribute and retaining possession works better as they are slower around the paddock.

Canada are well drilled in close contact situation and were able to deny Fiji possession. So, different strategies for different teams is the way to go, or as they say horses for courses.

Fiji did very well by playing the rugged Apisai Domolailai against USA in the fifth position play-off final. He neutralised the powerful USA forward Danny Barret, who had scored a couple of tries against the French earlier by bulldosing his way to the tryline, knocking off tacklers like in 10-pin bowling.

USA fed Barret early hoping to set the pace for them for a victory, but each time he ran into Domolailai, who grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him to the ground. Barret left the field early.

Sau, Jo Vakurunabuli and John Stewart are three men Fijian fans hope will develop into even more great tackle breakers in the eight remaining tourneys of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in the New Year.

Olympians and old hands like skipper Jerry Tuwai, Jasa Veremalua and Vatemo Ravouvou have been well marked by opposite defenders while Nasilasila is unstoppable with his footwork. Kalione Nasoko is improving in discipline and trying to develop other skills like offloading and back passes.

Now that Waisea Nacuqu is injured, Fiji 7s skipper to the Vanuatu mini games Alusio Radovu has shown that he is ready for higher calling.

Sau has continued his aggressive form from the Drua 15s team while Vakurunabuli continues to surprise fans with his bag of tricks and running skills.

He has shown great footwork and ability and gave Seabalo Senatla a shove that sent him flying to crash land against fellow player Smith. A step to the left, a step to the right and then boom, reminds us of the same crashing run the late Steelman, Aminiasi Naituyaga, did in Hong Kong in the 1997 Melrose Cup.

Vakurunabuli even hurdled past a tackler and is developing into another Savenaca Rawaca.

Sau, on the other hand, made that bone crushing tackle that took England's try-scoring forward Ruaridh McConnochie out injured in the leg and sore in other areas.

Series referee communication with match officials and decision-making was sometimes a comedy of errors.

Inconsistency in new referees applying the rules of rugby union has become consistent in the series.

Hopefully, in Sydney and onwards, referees will not be as confusing. The try by Blitzbok's Kwagga Smith was a non-try because the ball went forward after it was ripped and he was offside and he went into the maul from the side.

The linesman protested and he should have asked the ref to call for a video replay because they disagreed.

The penalty for Tuwai in trapping the ball with his foot was also an unfair blow to Fiji. Both led to tries.

But this one takes the cake and if former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was alive, he would have been roaring with outrage.

In the playoff match between Kenya and Uganda, the referee signaled a video replay and wanted to make sure if Uganda had really scored a try.

The Uganda player, in black jersey, won the race to the ball and had his hand grounding the ball before the Kenyans in red jersey did.

After running the action in slow motion, the video ref said clearly, "there is no try, the ball was grounded first by the player in black".

What? If it was grounded by the player in black from Uganda then it was a try as Kenya was in red.

Then the referee said "No try", before giving the ball to the Kenyans. For running around bareheaded in the scorching African sun, we can forgive the ref.

But we wonder what excuse the video refs had since they must have been inside an air conditioned room somewhere in the stadium.

Whether they were even following the game is another question.








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