Los Pumas fight back to stun hosts

The Fiji 7s team engage in breathing exercises during training in Hamilton, New Zealand. Picture: HSBC N 7s

THE ever-improving Argentina outfit came back from a 12-point half-time deficit to produce a stunning 14-12 win in the men’s final against the All Blacks 7s in Hamilton. The Los Pumas turned the tables on the hosts and denied New Zealand a double at the FMG Stadium in Hamilton, after the Black Ferns took out the Championship with a 33-7 win over USA. The men’s team looked set to make it a double with a 12-0 half-time lead over the Pumas with first half tries to Akuila Rokolisoa and Roderick Solo. However, the determined Los Pumas regrouped and responded with two tries of their own from Santiago Alvarez and Marcos Moneta. With both tries converted, Argentina secured its first ever tournament win on New Zealand soil. From the beginning of the 2022/23 HSBC WRSS circuit, the Santiago Gomez Cora coached side has been working tough, and beating the tournament favourites in New Zealand is history for the South Americans. The match ended on a contentious note when NZ’s Brady Rush looked to have ground the ball with his elbow after the final hooter. However, a closer look from various angles of footage showed Rush didn’t ground the ball and the TMO ruled a no try, to the disappointment of the crowd.

Fiji unbeaten in tough pool

Fiji started so well on day one. The boys beat France, Kenya and Samoa. The boys made a winning start to their Hamilton 7s campaign after beating a tough French side 26-10. Waisea Nacuqu was sin-binned for a deliberate knock on, but the side managed tries to Tira Wilagi and Nacuqu who returned from the sin-bin. France scored an unconverted try to close the gap to 12-5 at half-time. Filipe Sauturaga scored Fiji’s third try before France replied with another unconverted try. However, Manueli Maisamoa scored Fiji’s final try. The 7s team booked a quarter-final spot after beating Kenya 21-7. Filipe Sauturaga scored the only points in the first half with a converted try as Fiji led 7-0 going into the half time break. Kenya started the second spell strongly scoring a converted try under the post to level the score 7-all before Waisea Nacuqu and Vuiviawa Naduvalo scored a converted try each as Fiji won 21-7. Fiji’s final pool match was against Cape Town 7s winner Samoa which had earlier lost to France and had to beat Fiji to qualify. Fiji, however, proved too strong, beating Samoa 22-12. Waisea Nacuqu scored two unconverted tries as Fiji led 10-0. Tuna Tuitama grabbed a converted try as Samoa closed the gap 10-7 at the break. Samoa started the second half strongly and with a try to Motu Opetai to lead 12-10, but tries to Vuiviawa Naduvalo and Manueli Maisamoa gifted Fiji the win and knocked the Samoans out of pool play.

Los Pumas outclass Fiji

With the likes of Rodrigo Isgro, Agustin Fraga, Luciano Gonzalez, Santiago Vera Felo, veteran Gaston Revol, Matias Osadczuk and Marcos Moneta, Argentina stamped its mark in the match. The Los Pumas took advantage of our missed tackles, poor discipline, lack of cohesion and the sin-binning of Vuiviawa Naduvalo and slowed the game, much to the frustration of the boys. Argentina put relentless pressure on our attack and we crumpled under pressure and out of Cup contention after going down 19-10. Fiji started on a high note as Jerry Matana scored an unconverted try. Argentina then replied with an unconverted try as both teams headed into the break locked at 5-all. Argentina capitalised as we were a player short and scored a converted try to lead 12-5. Mistakes proved too costly as the Los Pumas stole possession inside our territory and ran in for their third try to lead 19-5. Matana scored his second try after the full time hooter sounded and the crowd was disappointed as Fiji was knocked out of the Cup.

Loss to Aussies ends Fiji’s campaign

Fiji’s campaign came to an end with a 26-19 loss to Australia in the 5th place semi-fi nal. Australia started the game strongly scoring two tries for the 12-0 lead. However, Iowane Teba managed to grab a try at the half-time hooter as Fiji trailed 12-7 at halftime. Henry Hutchison and Dietrich Roach extended the Aussies lead to 26-7, but Manueli Maisamoa and Jerry Matana managed to score a try each in the dying minutes, one of which was converted. Fiji then had a chance to score another try after the full time hooter sounded, however the boys were penalized for an infringement and Australia kicked the ball out.

Fiji slips on points table

After winning the Hamilton 7s, Argentina is now placed third (59 points) behind USA (61 points) on the points table while the All Blacks 7s moved to the top rank (63 points) as the tournament
heads to Sydney. South Africa and Samoa were forced from their first placed rank, but did enough to finish fourth and fifth, respectively, with 57 and 55 points. France is ranked sixth with 53 points and one ahead of the seventh-ranked Aussies, while Fiji moved down from seventh to eighth place, and is three points adrift of the Les Bleus. Ben Gollings and the boys have
a mammoth task ahead of them. The top four sides will be guaranteed a spot in the 2024 Olympic Games and Fiji is far from the the pack. However, fans should not panic as we have a long way to go. In 2020, Fiji fi nished ninth in Hamilton, but beat South Africa 12-10 in the final of the Sydney 7s. Hence, the boys will be defending their Sydney 7s title this weekend!
In pool play, we face France, Tonga and Japan. The platform
must be set in pool play. Time for redemption!

  • RAJNESH LINGAM is a regular contributor to this newspaper. The views do not necessarily reflect those of this newspaper.

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