Fiji claim first title of season in Sydney

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Sydney, AUSTRALIA – February 3, 2020: 6.40pm (WORLD RUGBY) Fiji came out on top against South Africa for the second time in eight days, although this time their prize was not ninth place but a first HSBC Sydney Sevens title.

Both teams had been determined to bounce back from that disappointment in Hamilton and served up a Cup final every bit as thrilling as their last meeting in Singapore when Fiji had led 19-0 at half-time only for South Africa to storm back and triumph 21-19.

Fiji nearly had the dream start in their first Cup final of the season, but JC Pretorius and Selvyn Davids managed to hold Meli Derenalagi over the line. It would only be a temporary respite, though, because as the rain began to fall again the ball skewed out the side of a breakdown and Napolioni Bolaca reacted quickest to score the opening try.

A barnstorming run from Zain Davids created the momentum for Pretorius to score with Fiji suffering a double blow with Josua Vakurunabili yellow-carded for a tackle earlier in the move. Fiji managed to hold out in his absence and then increased their advantage when a powerful hand-off from Bolaca gave him the space to run-in his second of the final.

Zain Davids crossed for South Africa midway through the second half but his namesake Selvyn was unable to add the conversion, leaving the Dubai champions trailing by two points. They were unable to find another score, Fiji and their huge contingent of fans in the crowd able to celebrate after South Africa knocked on in their own 22 with the final play.

Fiji captain Derenalagi said: “First of all I would like to thank the almighty Lord for giving us the strength and the power to come and deliver what we have been planning.

“Before we entered the field the message I told my team was just to go out there, enjoy it and do the job. We delivered that and I want to thank the soldiers behind me for that great effort you saw here today.

“Shout out to all the fans here in Sydney for coming out in numbers and for supporting your national team – this win is for you too.”

New Zealand still the lead the standings with 76 points after four of the 10 rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020, although now only by nine from South Africa. France are third on 56 points, just ahead of England (54) and Sydney champions Fiji (53).

The next round sees the teams head to a new stop in Los Angeles, home of the 2028 Olympic Games, at Dignity Health Sports Park from 29 February-1 March.

USA WIN BRONZE

A sub plot to the bronze final, delayed by more than 30 minutes due lightning in the area,  was whether Perry Baker or Carlin Isles would become the USA player to score 200 series tries, the former drawing level by running in the opening try before captain Ben Pinkelman and Naima Fuala’au made it 17-0 before Will Hendy scored with the final play of the first half.

USA lost Stephen Tomasin to the sin-bin but his team-mates held firm in his absence and then just as it appeared that Isles was set for try 200 Dan Norton caught and hauled him into touch. Instead it was England who had the final say, Ollie Lindsay-Hague turning Isles inside out to cut the deficit to 17-10.

Earlier in the first semi-final, South Africa edged a titanic battle with USA to preserve their record of never having lost to their opponents at this stage. Pretorius sprinted down the touchline for the opening try after 23 seconds, but USA hit back and Pinkelman’s try looked like giving them the half-time lead until Selvyn Davids tied it at 12-12 with a late score.

With the rain beginning to fall in Sydney, the score remained that way until midway through the second half when South Africa captain Stedman Gans burst through for what proved to be winner with the Sevens Eagles unable to find the score to force sudden-death extra-time.

With every Fijian pass, run and tackle cheered by their vocal fans braving the pouring rain, the Olympic champions struck the first blow through Bolaca but would probably have hoped for more having had plenty of ball in England’s half in the first half.

A second try did come barely a minute into the second half through Waisea Nacuqu and he was followed over the line by World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year Jerry Tuwai for a 17-0 lead.

England gave themselves a lifeline when Norton chased his own kick and while he failed to ground after being pushed by Alasio Naduva, a penalty try was awarded and the Fijian yellow-carded. England sensed their opportunity and captain Tom Mitchell sprinted away for their second, adding the conversion from the sideline to cut the deficit to three with time up. Fiji knocked on from the restart but the ball went safely into touch and they could celebrate a first final of the season.

The 12 teams that missed out on the Cup semi-finals were ranked according to their placing in the pools to play-off for fifth to 16th positions.

The trans-Tasman battle for fifth place was dominated by New Zealand, who scored tries through Sione Molia, Regan Ware, Dylan Collier and Caleb Clarke before Lachie Anderson ran in from long range for a consolation try, taking the total raised by the Australian men for the Red Cross Appeal supporting those affected by the bushfires to $18,000 across the weekend.

Argentina made the better start in their encounter with Ireland for seventh place, Rodrigo Etchart and Rodrigo Isgro scoring in a first half that saw them lose two players to a clash of heads. However, Ireland came storming back with Jordan Conroy’s try at the death sealing a 21-12 victory on their first visit to Australia.

Sacha Valleau’s early try for France proved the only score of a ninth place play-off with Canada that was played in pouring rain, while Scotland ran out comfortable 21-5 winners over Wales in the all-European contest for 11th place. Sam Pecqueuer, captain Robbie Fergusson and Ally Miller ran in Scotland’s tries before Joe Goodchild added a late consolation for Wales, who still recorded their best finish of the season.

The 13th place play-off was closely-fought between Spain and invitational side Japan with first-half tries by Ignacio Rodriguez-Guerra and Pablo Fontes ultimately enough for Los Leones to win their second match of the weekend with the Tokyo 2020 hosts only able to find one try in reply from Shotaro Tsuoka.

Samoa found themselves in the 15th place play-off for the second weekend running – this time against Kenya – but again ensured they finished on a winning note with Paul Scanlan’s late try enough to secure a 19-12 victory for Gordon Tietjens’ men.

POOL STAGE CONCLUSION

The final round of pool matches had kicked off the men’s competition on day two with Fiji, South Africa, USA and England finishing top of their respective pools to qualify for the Cup semi-finals.

South Africa were already assured of their semi-final place after beating Argentina and France in the sweltering heat on Saturday and were joined by USA after they ended Australia coach Tim Walsh’s hopes of becoming the first to win a series Cup title with both a men’s and women’s team. Australia simply had no answer to the pace of USA flyers Baker and Isles who scored four tries between them in an emphatic 43-7 victory as their race to be the first Sevens Eagles to score 200 series tries continued.

The Blitzboks were equally clinical in their 36-0 victory over Samoa to win all three of their Pool B matches, Pretorius and Angelo Davids each scoring two tries in the win. Davids looked set to have a hat-trick for the third game running, but his foot touched the sideline and instead it was Muller du Plessis who scored South Africa’s final try late on.

England needed to avoid defeat against Canada to reach a second successive semi-final in 2020, but fell behind to an early Connor Braid try. England responded with two tries, Charlton Kerr’s coming while Braid was in the sin-bin, to lead 12-7 at half-time. The second half mirrored the first with Canada scoring first and England hitting back with a double to triumph 26-14.

Bankwest Stadium was literally rocking when Fiji took on Wales and the series champions certainly put on a show to delight the swathes of Fijian fans in the crowd, scoring nine tries to triumph 55-0 – beating their previous highest score of 54 in Hamilton last year. Eight players got in on the scoring act with Aminiasi Tuimaba scoring two quick-fire tries in the first half of the Fiji sevens’ masterclass.

Fiji’s victory meant New Zealand would miss the semi-finals for the first time this season, but the All Blacks Sevens did finish the pool stages on a winning note after a hard-fought battle with Kenya. Salesi Rayasi and Tim Mikkelson had put New Zealand ahead but Bush Mwale’s try kept it tight at half-time. The score remained at 12-7 until Sam Dickson made certain of victory for the series leaders late on.

Invitational side Japan were 30 seconds away from recording their first pool victory of the season when Dougie Fife went over to snatch a 21-21 draw for Scotland in the day’s opening match. The Tokyo 2020 hosts had led 14-0 after earlier tries from Ryota Kano and Toshiki Yamauchi before Scotland drew level, and then again after Yoshihiro Noguchi’s try at the end of the first half, but it wasn’t to be.

First-half tries by Santiago Mare and Luciano Gonzalez set Argentina on the way to a 17-5 victory over France that secured second place in Pool B. Remi Siega’s try sandwiched between them meant it was anyone’s game going into the second half, but with only Etchart able to cross the line it was Los Pumas Sevens who guaranteed another top-eight finish.

Ireland never looked back after establishing a 19-0 lead against Spain in their Pool D finale. Spain did score at the end of the first half through Manuel Sainz-Trapaga, but they suffered a double blow with Pol Pla sin-binned and a penalty try awarded to Ireland. There was no way back from that with Spain only able to manage a further try through Alejandro de la Rosa to go down 26-10.

 

Black Ferns Sevens go back-to-back in Sydney 

Sydney (WORLD RUGBY) : The Black Ferns Sevens continue to write new chapters in the history of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series after beating Canada 33-7 in the final to become the first to successfully defend the HSBC Sydney Sevens title.

The title is their fourth in a row on the 2020 series after also lifting the silverware in Dubai, Cape Town and on home soil in Hamilton last weekend, taking their total to an incredible 26 titles in 42 series events.

New Zealand have now won 19 matches in a row since losing to France in the pool stages of the Glendale season opener last October, their 250th match in series history also seeing them extend their perfect record against Canada in Cup finals to eight matches.

Canada have only tasted victory once now in 21 meetings with the Black Ferns Sevens – four years ago in Sao Paulo – but they seemed set to open the scoring at Bankwest Stadium when Bianca Farella raced clear, only for Michaela Blyde to chase her down and earn a penalty.

HSBC Player of the Final Tyla Nathan-Wong, who in the semi-final had become only the second player to score 1,000 series points, instead went under the posts to give herself an easy conversion for a 7-0 lead.

The lead lasted barely a minute, though, with Charity Williams cutting between Sarah Hirini and Stacey Fluhler to race through and tie the scores. It appeared that would be the last score of the first half but in added time Gayle Broughton’s change of direction caught Canada out, giving her an easy run-in.

Canada simply couldn’t find a way through the black wall in the second half of a match played in wet conditions, Niall Williams increasing the lead before Kelly Brazier’s trademark step created the space for Theresa Fitzpatrick to make certain of victory.’

It was left to Alena Saili to put the gloss on the victory – their third over Canada in Cup finals this season after Dubai and Hamilton – that increases the Black Ferns Sevens’ advantage at the top of the standings to 16 points over Australia and Canada with three rounds to play.

Hirini said: “We’ve been working really hard to go back-to-back and to do it twice this season is just massive. I’m so happy right now. I can’t believe we made our debut last weekend [at home] and then winning this tournament – I’m speechless.

“Canada got off to a good start and are a quality team – it’s pretty tough to try and tackle those girls. I’m just so proud of our efforts, obviously every person who comes into our team thrives like Alena Saili at the end there who scored that thriller of a try.”

New Zealand now have 96 points as the only team to medal in all five rounds, with Australia and Canada on 80 points. France sit a further 10 points behind in fourth having leapfrogged USA after they could only finish eighth in Sydney.

Next stop for the teams is a first-ever series event in Hong Kong, playing alongside the traditional men’s event, on 3-5 April.

AUSTRALIA WIN BRONZE 

The bronze final was delayed by nearly 30 minutes due to lightning in the area around Bankwest Stadium, but Australia seemed determined to finish with a win for the home crowd and raise more money for the Red Cross Appeal.

Charlotte Caslick released Ellia Green for a try inside 30 seconds with Demi Hayes following her over the try-line shortly after for a 12-0 lead. France got back into the game when Lina Guerin took the final pass from Séraphine Okemba and Australia could do nothing to stop Joanna Grisez from adding a second late on.

Jade Ulutule couldn’t add the conversion to tie the scores and France’s restart didn’t go 10, allowing Australia to tap and boot the ball into touch to win the bronze medal and take their total raised to $22,500 over the weekend.

Earlier in the first semi-final, Canada had silenced the crowd with a dominant display to end Australia’s hopes of a second title on home soil and first for just over two years with a 34-0 victory. Canada have now won their last four semi-finals with Australia – three of them this series – and each time a huge defensive effort has kept the Olympic champions pinned in their own half for long periods.

Kaili Lukan and Ghislaine Landry sent Canada into half-time with a 12-0 lead and then two yellow cards didn’t help Australia’s cause with each one punished with tries, by Farella and Keyara Wardley. Canada went on to post a record win, Wardley and Karen Paquin adding late tries to reach their third final of the series.

Flulher stole the show in the other semi-final, scoring all four of New Zealand’s tries in a 24-7 victory over France to make it 18 victories in a row since Les Bleues beat them in the Dubai pool stages in December. Fluhler’s opening try had a moment of history attached to it as Nathan-Wong’s conversion made her the first Black Ferns Sevens player – and second behind Landry – to score 1,000 series points.

Guerin them stepped her way through the defence to tie the scores at 7-7, but Fluhler had New Zealand ahead before half-time before adding two more after the break to set up a repeat of the finals in Dubai and Hamilton.

The eight teams that missed out on the Cup semi-finals were ranked according to their placing to play-off for fifth to 12th positions.

The ever-improving Fijian 7s side finished 5th in Sydney at the weekend

Fiji capped an impressive tournament with a 17-5 victory over England that saw them finish fifth for the first time since the final round of the 2016-17 series in Clermont-Ferrand. Tries from Lavenia Tinai, Luisa Tisolo and captain Tokasa Seniyasi had given them a 17-0 lead before Beth Wilcock scored a consolation try for England at the end.

A hat-trick by Daria Noritsina saw Russia edge USA 19-15 to finish seventh, the second of her tries coming after the Women’s Sevens Eagles dropped the ball on their own line and she reacted quickest to dot down. USA had led 10-7 before that error, but did set up a tense final few seconds after Kristi Kirshe scored and USA declined the conversion attempt to restart and go for the win, ultimately to no avail after Russia managed to turn it over.

In the ninth place play-off, invitational side Japan couldn’t have asked for a better start with captain Honoka Tsutsumi scoring twice in quick succession, stepping her way through for the first and then running around the last defender on the opposite flank. Further tries from Haruka Hirotsu, Raichel Bativakalolo and Fumiko Otake sealed the 33-17 win to give Japan their best result of the 2020 series.

Ireland and Brazil met for the third tournament running in the 11th place play-off and, just as in Cape Town and Hamilton, it was the Irish who emerged victorious, this time 20-7 with Eve Higgins scoring two of their four tries.

POOL STAGE CONCLUSION

The final round of pool matches had kicked off day two with New Zealand, Canada and Australia finishing top of their respective pools to reach the Cup semi-finals, where they were joined by the best runners-up across the three pools in France, who edged out England and Fiji with their better point differential.

Fiji were fast out of the blocks against Brazil in the opening game of the day with Tisolo, Seniyasi and Ana Maria Naimasi dotting down within four minutes. Brazil had plenty of the ball in the second half, but tries another from Naimasi helped Fiji wrap up the 31-0 victory which kept them in the mix for a semi-final place.

USA knew it was win or bust in terms of their semi-final hopes against Canada, but it was the Hamilton runners-up who struck first through Farella and then doubled their advantage with the clock in red when captain Landry burst through. Williams made it 21-0 early in the second half against the side they beat in the 2017 Sydney final, with USA only able to muster a late consolation through Alev Kelter as they suffered their 100th defeat in series history.

England needed to avoid defeat to confirm their place in the semi-finals for the first time this season, but conceded early against a New Zealand team without the injured Ruby Tui when Kelly Brazier stepped her way over. England hit the front through Deborah Fleming and Helena Rowland with a wayward pass denying Brazier a second with the final play of the half. The Black Ferns Sevens, though, stormed back with Williams, Fitzpatrick and Fluhler tries securing a 26-12 victory.

A repeat of the Hamilton bronze final would determine the two remaining semi-finalists and Australia led 14-0 at half-time thanks to Emma Tonegato and Green run-ins to put France in danger of missing out on the best runner-up spot. However, two quick-fire tries through Chloé Pelle and Okemba cut the deficit to four points, the former having stopped Cassie Staples from scoring at one end before doing so herself at the other. Australia’s defence, though, held firm to avenge their loss in Hamilton sevens days ago.

A first win of the tournament was up for grabs when Russia and Japan met in Pool A and it looked like the Sakura Sevens were set to end a 15-match losing run in pool matches on the series when Bativakalolo and Chiharu Nakamura gave them a 12-7 lead. However, with the clock in red Baizat Khamidova broke through to snatch victory for Russia.

Spain once again proved too strong for Ireland in the other Pool C match, although they had to come from behind after Murphy Crowe’s early try. Eva Aguirre and captain Marina Bravo crossed in the first half before María García stepped her way to a double for a 24-5 victory..(PACNEWS)

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