Rugby treat for fans

Fiji clinched their fourth World Series Sevens title after winning the Paris Sevens in 2019 in the French capital. Picture: https://rugby365.com

This weekend, fans will be in for a 7s treat as the Toulouse 7s kicks off. Fiji missed out on the second leg in Spain, but made an impact in the third leg in Singapore and Vancouver as Ben Gollings’ men finished first and second, respectively.

The momentum from those two tournaments are expected to carry the boys through, and when one thinks of our success on the HSBC WRSS circuit, the last four tournaments of the 2018/29 HSBC WRSS will live in memories for ages when our flamboyant 7s team created history.

They had won five back-to-back tournaments and played four consecutive finals, winning three. Fiji was in rampaging form, as the boys beat the in-form USA Eagles in Cape Town and Hamilton 29-15 and 38-0, respectively. The side then played four finals in a row and claimed three Cup titles.

Coach Gareth Baber was over the moon and so were the fans. Apart from the Singapore loss, all sounded good for Baber and his band. Let’s reflect on the four-in-a-row finals in the scintillating 2018/19 season thanks to Sky Sports.

Fiji’s fifth consecutive title at So Kon Po At So Kon Po Stadium in the Happy Valley, Fiji added icing to the cake by becoming the first team to win their fifth consecutive HSBC Hong Kong 7s title, after overpowering the fiery French outfit 21-7.

Jerry Tuwai became the first player to ever play in five consecutive victories in HK. Fiji was within striking distance of the championship title after their victory, storming a determined French outfit 21-7.

The defending HK 7s champs opened the scoring in the fifth minute when a quick pass behind from Aminasi Tuiamba 20 metres from the try line set up an opportunity for Vilimoni Botitu to weave around Remi Siega.

Tuimaba followed with a try of his own for Fiji to lead 14-0 at the break before a yellow card for Josua Vakurunabili saw them concede a penalty, but the French could not press the advantage and found themselves back on the defensive.

A high tackle send-off for Tavite Veredamu levelled the playing field. Tuimaba was sent off with 90 seconds to spare, two minutes after his second try, in a match where the Fijians made full use of their strength advantage.

Fiji’s reliable band of supporters celebrated the 19th overall win in HK by cheering and singing.

In his post-match interview, while paying tribute to his courageous players, Gareth Baber dedicated the victory to victims of the Christchurch mosque attack. Heartbreak in Singapore A week later in Singapore, featuring in back-to-back finals, the national 7s side blew away a 19-0 lead to gift the Blitzboks the title.

Neil Powell’s green machine came from behind to win 20-19 and that painful loss is hard to describe.

The Blitzboks, who had only won two of their 30 HSBC WRSS Cup titles in Asia, scored 20 unanswered points in the second half.

The Cup final, from the start to the finish, was an epic and exceptional contest and one of the most gripping as Fiji flew in the opening seven minutes, looking unstoppable, as Aminiasi Tuimaba, Napolioni Bolaca and Vilimoni Botitu made their intensity count on the scoreboard.

With a 19-0 cushion it looked as if Fiji would retain the title they won 12 months ago, something no side had ever been able to do, but South Africa had other ideas.

Youngster Kurt-Lee Arendse commenced the fight-back, and the Player of the Final Angelo Davids followed alongside Ryan Oosthuizen.

In the final seconds, South Africa remained two points down, but Selvyn Davids connected with a penalty and held Fiji out to complete the job. Joy for South Africa, but heartbreak for the Fijians!

Heading to the penultimate leg

Heading to the the penultimate leg, the equation was clear. Fiji had to win and knock the USA Eagles in the eliminations.

It all came down to the final match at Twickenham after the Americans sealed third place at the London 7s, with Fiji knowing defeat would leave their rivals still at the summit with one round to go.

If there were any nerves, they certainly were not apparent in the Cup final as Fiji romped to a 43-7 success over the Australia 7s side. The 7s side went to the top of the WRSS table as the national side retained their London 7s title for the second year in a row.

Aminiasi Tuimaba scored a hat-trick in the final in the first half. Vilimoni Botitu also touched down in the first half as they led 24-0. Australia started the second spell with a converted try to Joe Pincus, but that was the only points they managed against a fired up Fiji side.

Josua Vakurunabili made sure to put the result beyond doubt after scoring from a lineout mistake by Australia five metres out from their own try line.

A great defensive effort by Fiji saw substitute Alasio Naduva going in for Fiji’s sixth try. Naduva was still trying to catch his breath when Vakurunabili sent him to the try line again for his second try straight after the restart.
Derenalagi was named Player of the Final following another solid performance.

The Dream Team for the London 7s included Stephen Tomasin (USA), Pierre Gilles Lakafia (France), Andrew Knewstubb (NZ), Australia’s Maurice Longbottom and Henry Hutchison and Fijian duo Ratu Meli Derenalagi and Jerry Tuwai.

The final event

When the London 7s concluded, all eyes were on the Paris 7s as Fiji was crowned the HSBC WRSS champs for the fourth time, after beating the All Blacks 7s 35-24.

These words from Paula Dranisinukula: “Be a history maker and make your families proud of you,” inspired and motivated our warriors as the defending Olympic champion completed their fifth win in a dominant display in the French capital.

Napolioni Bolaca posted two tries and five conversions for Fiji, who got off to a blistering 21-0 start and did not let up. Regan Ware scored two tries for the All Blacks 7s, who was assured a Tokyo 2020 sport with a top four finish.

Going into Paris, the USA Eagles had a chance to sneak past Fiji on points to claim the title, but lost 33-14 to the Islanders in the semi-final, which mathematically clinched the title for Fiji.

In the emphatic and thrilling final, Fiji led 28-7 at half time before consolidating the win in the second half. Three contiguous tries from Bolaca, who was named Player of the Final, Derenalagi and Tuimaba were converted by Bolaca.

A Jona Nareki try, converted by Andrew Knewstubb for the opposition, was countered by a Bolaca try and conversion.

In the second half, an Asaeli Tuivuaka try and Bolaca extra had Fiji 35-7 up, but All Black 7s fought back to add respectability to the score line with a brace of tries from Regan Ware on either side of one by Dylan Collier, one converted, to end the game at 35-24.

The 7s side, for the first time in history, won back-to-back tournaments played on consecutive weekends.

The history making team

Coached by Welshman Gareth Baber, Napolioni Bolaca, Vilimoni Botitu, Apenisa Cakaubalavu, Ratu Meli Derenalagi, Paula Dranisinukula, Livai Ikanikoda, Isoa Tabu, Mesulame Kunavula, Sevuloni Mocenacagi, Waisea Nacuqu, Alasio Naduva, Amenoni Nasilasila, Kalione Nasoko, Vatemo Ravouvou, Aminiasi Tuimaba, Asaeli Tuivuaka, Jerry Tuwai, Josua Vakurunabili, Terio Veilawa and Beni Vota were part of history. Tuwai, Derenalagi, Tuimaba and Botitu were part of the Dream Team, while Botitu scooped the DHL impact Player Award.

Fijians were elated with the thrilling win which continues to be talked about around the tanoa. A beautiful piece of history as we prepare for the fourth leg in Toulouse and London!

Drua’s maiden trip to Christchurch

I round off my article with a reflection of the Fijian Drua landing in Christchurch for their all-important clash versus the Crusaders.

The match was played last night and Fijian fans were on a high spirit as they welcomed the Drua to Christchurch.

My brother, Adhiswar Ram Lingam, who is an ardent Drua fan, had to sacrifice his sleep to ensure that he caught up with the Fijian flyers at Christchurch Airport at 1am on Thursday morning.

He was excited to meet his favourite players-Vinaya Habosi, Teti Tela and Frank Lomani.  I’m sure fans in the West are equally excited to meet the Drua when they arrive next week for their match versus the Gallagher Chiefs.

Until then, I wish everyone a happy, blessed and safe weekend!

  • RAJNESH LINGAM is a regular contributor to this newspaper. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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