Fiji will be seeking “moments of magic” at their favourite hunting ground, the Hong Kong Sevens, on Friday, as they launch a hat-trick bid with a rematch of last year’s nail-biting Cup final against Wales.
The Welsh side — who will meet Fiji in Pool A on Friday night — nearly overturned the Pacific giants in the 2013 final, leading 19-0 at half-time. Only a hat-trick by Fiji’s Osea Kolinisau — then a substitute, this year the captain — sealed their agonising 26-19 defeat.
Wales will be “a very tough battle”, Fiji coach Ben Ryan told AFP on the eve of the tournament. “I think ultimately it will come down to one or two moments of magic or madness that will decide our fate on the field.”
“The boys definitely think they’re good enough to win (the tournament),” he added. “But sevens doesn’t always work out… In 14 minutes a lot of things can change very quickly.”
Welsh legend Jonathan Davies, in Hong Kong as an ambassador for Sevens sponsor HSBC, admitted that his countrymen were the underdogs — “as they always are against Fiji at sevens”.
“But that’s why sevens are so good, sides are capable of beating each other,” he said.
That Wales made last year’s final was “a delight”, he said. “Fiji won it but it was a game in which if Wales had just hung on and scored one more try, that would’ve been it.”
Riding high after defeating South Africa to take the title in Tokyo last weekend, Fiji, who have won the Hong Kong Sevens 14 times previously, sit in third place in the table with 95 points.
South Africa’s “Blitzbokke” are top with 116 points after leap-frogging New Zealand, who finished fourth in Tokyo, leaving the All Blacks in second place with 114.
The three teams have locked up the Series so far, taking two tournaments each — Australia and Wellington for New Zealand, Port Elizabeth and Las Vegas for South Africa, and Dubai and Tokyo for Fiji.
A third-straight Fiji win in Hong Kong — boosting their standing by 22 points — could see the series, with just two tournaments left in Glasgow and London in May, go down to the wire for all three teams.
– ‘It’s not over til it’s over’ –
New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens made it clear he was watching Fiji in his rearview mirror.
Asked at a press conference on Wednesday if the Series had become a two-horse race between the All Blacks and South Africa, Tietjens warned: “Looks like that way on the points table, but there’s Fiji coming up from behind.”
“No tournament is over ’til it’s over.”
With 120,000 spectators expected to attend the three-day tournament, the most prestigious of the Series, Tietjens admitted he was feeling “certainly an extra bit of pressure”.
South Africa coach Neil Powell denied that Hong Kong — where his team is still seeking a maiden victory — was a bad-luck “bogey tournament” for the Blitzbokke, citing their strong showing during the New Zealand leg of the series in February.
“I think we showed in Wellington, that really you could also say was a bogey tournament, (but) we reached the final… I think we will do well in Hong Kong this year.”
Twenty-eight teams are participating in Hong Kong — 16 in the tournament, and a further 12 in a simultaneous qualifier competition, the winner of which will be promoted to the Series next year.
Hong Kong rugby chairman Trevor Gregory said the qualifier was “a strong preview of what the wider sporting world can expect as we ramp up for the debut of rugby sevens at the Olympics in Rio in 2016”.
Photo: Philippe Lopez, AFP
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