HONG KONG, China, Apr 8 – Fiji were Saturday eyeing a path to the Hong Kong Sevens final after the defending champions avoided a crunch quarterfinal against South Africa by scraping past arch rivals New Zealand in dramatic style.
The Pacific islanders took advantage of a six-man All Blacks team — after Iopu Iopu-Aso was penalised for a high tackle — to score and held on for a 17-14 victory after a New Zealand try at the death was disallowed for a forward final pass.
The All Blacks, whose winger Joe Ravouvou was again in irresistible form to touch down after a 50 metre sprint up the field, now face South Africa while Fiji were rewarded for topping their group with a game against Canada.
New Zealand and Fiji have dominated the Hong Kong Sevens in recent years with the teams winning the past six tournaments between them and their group stage clash had the air of a knockout match.
But New Zealand coach Scott Waldrom said his team must tighten up or face the exit.
“We can’t afford to get down to six men especially in what’s really a final level game — you need to keep all seven on the field,” he said.
“They scored when we were down and we probably gifted them early by kicking the ball straight to them from that kick off.”
– ‘Great game of footy’ –
Fiji coach Gareth Baber, returning to Hong Kong after coaching the home team last year, said: “We managed to keep our cool and composure, work hard and snatch it right when it could have been taken away from us.”
Fiji had earlier salvaged a 17-17 draw with Wales with a last minute try, leaving Wales coach Gareth Williams saying it was a game his team “should have won”.
South Africa cruised to the top of their group with victories over Kenya and Canada Saturday but coach Neil Powell said the Blitzboks faced a challenge against the All Blacks on Sunday and needed to sharpen up their defence.
“It’s never easy against New Zealand and they’re also improving over the last few tournaments — I think they had a slow start to this series but every time they come back they get better.”
Australia edged their old enemy England 12-10 in a thrilling end-to-end encounter, with England wing Tom Bowen and Australia back Henry Hutchison both going over twice, but the Aussies gained the decisive points with a conversion.
England scored their first try, a chip and charge almost the length of the field, while down to six men after captain Tom Mitchell was in the sin bin for a high tackle but stout Australian defence in the second half saw them hold on for the victory.
The clash was not crucial with both heavyweights Australia and England fancied to brush aside Sunday quarterfinal opponents Argentina and the USA respectively but the historic rivalry between the teams added an undeniable edge to the match.
“You always want to beat the Poms, don’t you?” gloated Australia coach Andy Friend.
“I thought it was a great game of footy I really did, really competitive, both teams wanted it, you could see that.”