As the Wellington Sevens 2017 title changed hands, South Africa reigned supreme on a windy, final day of the tournament. Dethroning New Zealand, the Blitzbok were undefeated and relentless in their quest for the Seven Series title, as they swept aside Fiji in the Cup final last night.

South Africa 26Tries: Ruhan Nel(2), Rosko Specman, Seabelo Senatla; Conversions: Justin Geduld (2), Branco du Preez.

Fiji 5Try: Joeli Lutumailagi

Many believed that the event was an undoubted success. The quality of matches was high, and the atmosphere was positive. Others would say that the crowd numbers were disappointing and a sad case of affairs from years past. But on Day Two the results ended in South Africa’s favour – well deserving of a high-five (see main photo). And while the future of the Wellington leg may be unsteady, the race for the 2016/17 title is a clear goal for the leading sides.

South Africa lead the race, jumping clear of England, who missed their chance to keep the Blitzbok within reach. An eight point gap now exists, with Fiji overtaking the English side, and ahead of Scotland [after three of ten rounds].

HSBC Wellington Sevens 2017 – Day Two

The qualifying matches were just reward for some teams; Canada, Argentina, France and Scotland went up against the ‘Top Four’. The biggest surprise was how Canada had rebounded from a poor start to the World Series, recapturing form to go unbeaten after the opening day. That placed them in a match against ¬†Argentina, who also had an improvement in 2016 results.

Cup Quarter Finals: England 12 Scotland 14 | New Zealand 10 Fiji 26 | Canada 17 Argentina 12 | South Africa 45 France 0

The biggest surprise was undoubtedly, England losing to Scotland. It was something that Last Word On Rugby had thought could happen (great guess Jovi), but it still disrupted the English campaign to overtake South Africa on the standings ladder. Scotland were on fire, pushing harder and withstanding a late comeback from their British neighbour, in a thrilling display.

Scott Riddell, Gavin Lowe and Glenn Bryce of Scotland celebrate the win in the Cup Quarter Final match. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

In the lower tier matches, those sides really had the most to play for. The most in terms of pride, as the points were never going to help them advance far up the table, so the early Challenge Trophy results showed the heart and soul of those sides.

Trophy Quarter Finals: Kenya 24 Russia 5 | United States 19 Japan 14 | Wales 29 Papua New Guinea 7 | Australia 17 Samoa 14

Cup Semi Finals Results

Scotland 12 Fiji 19

Scotland were exceptional in this Cup semi final. If ever a team wanted to show ‘how to lead the Fijians’ it was here. Scotland had good defense, only allowing one try for the Fijians as they did most things right. Superb attitude from the ‘Bravehearts’ and even after halftime, some Fiji fans would have been worried.

The key moment came when Scotland made a simple error; a forward pass inside their own territory. With two minutes of play left, and at 7-12 ahead, it gave Fiji an opportunity which they profited from. A scrum penalty allowed midfielder Alivereti Veitokani to score beneath the posts. Converted, the two point advantage had the Fiji fans in high spirits. A come from behind win, it stole the glimmer of hope Scotland had and while they did well, the World Champions proved to be ‘too cool under pressure’ and advanced to the final.

South Africa 21 Canada 5

The opening passage of play was all too simple. ‘Get the ball wide’ and Seabelo Senatla scored with ease. That might have signaled the game, but stout defense was key. In an enterprising move, John Moonlight halted a scoring move with only inches between the ball and the in-goal. A lucky moment, they held the Blitzbok side to a single scoring movement in the opening six minutes…that was until Kwagga Smith turned over possession and ran under the black dot to end the half 14-0.

The African sides transition from defense to attack is top-class, and they made their moments count. It took Canada up til the 14th minute before they could manage to break the defense, so it ended 21-5 and the Blitzbok etched their names into the 2017 final against Fiji [who they had beaten on Day One].

Challenge Trophy Semi Finals: Kenya 19 USA 12 | Wales 10 Aus 24

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Fans Enjoy The Weekend

All the while, fans were enjoying the fun atmosphere (as seen below), the costumes were ever present as the lighthearted nature of Sevens was on full display. And while the 10,000 in attendance was a sparse reflection across the massive Westpac Stadium, the contingent of Fiji and South African fans would maintain high spirits right up the final match.

Challenge Trophy Final: Kenya 19 Australia 17

One key fact was ticked off by Kenya this weekend: a fifteen game losing streak was broken against Australia. They have talent abound, with Collins Injera, Andrew Amonde and Willy Ambaka Ndayara. Well done in claiming the Trophy.

Australia will limp away from Wellington, barely having a fit team. A massive casualty list of Boyd Killingworth, Sam Myers and Alex Gibbons means they will need to examine the sides fitness midweek. Coach Andy Friend was impressed with his men’s effort, but like others–they need to make it into the Cup finals, to give themselves a chance of competing for a Cup.

Argentina Claim Vital Win Over Hosts

In what used to be called the Plate Final, the play-off for fifth place was between New Zealand and Argentina. In no way did the Kiwis wish to be here, but they hoped to defeat the confident Pumas, and bring smiles to fans faces. Sadly, like the crowd number, it was a let down as Argentina won 12-17. Santiago Gomez Cara was thrilled by this comeback, and will be buoyed by his men’s efforts.

New Zealand finished the weekend in sixth place, and even with the ignominious attendance numbers undermining the future of the Wellington leg, the All Black Sevens still have talent. Sione Molia is a star–even though he is vulnerable, in a similar way that Jonah Lomu was early in his career–the 23 year old will only improve the more he plays.¬†Vilimoni Koroi had a good tournament as well, and showed a varied skill-set that should earn him more caps next weekend.

Ending the weekend 24 points behind South Africa on the table, it will take a huge turnaround in form to make up the distance. Reaching the final must be the goal for interim coaches Scott Waldrom and Tomasi Cama.

Bronze Medal Final: Scotland 28 Canada 22

Scotland had been the giant-killer, removing the England threat in Day Two’s opening game. They went into this bronze medal playoff full of confidence. But opposing them was an assured Canadian team who had goals of their own. That was proved when¬†Adam Zaruba crossed first.

Scotland were quick to respond, with James Fleming crossing the line. The back and fourth would continue, as each team used their weapons. Substitutes adding plenty, and when Isaac Kaay crossed after 13 minutes, it was 21-22. Scotland had to make a break, and in the dying minutes Fleming completed his hat-trick of tries. A superb effort, and just reward. It places Scotland firmly into the top four.

Canada can walk away entirely happy with their work in Wellington.¬†Damian McGrath came to this round with a hugely motivated side, and they made a tremendous effort across the weekend.¬†Every man contributed, so when they attend Sydney, it will be as a ‘Cup contender’.¬†Expect more from the ‘Canucks’ in Sydney next weekend.

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Cup Final Match 2017: South Africa 26 Fiji 5

Each team earned their place in the final, and the high skill level on display was fitting of a title-fight. Both sides traded punches, with South Africa holding their place, and even advancing many times into Fiji territory. Against the run of play,¬†Joeli Lutumailagi scored. That might have given them the advantage, but a yellow card reduced them to six players–that opened the gate, and Senatla waltzed through it to score.

The second half was more one-sided. Even back to a full compliment, Fiji made errors. They missed 10 tackles, and when Rosko Specman scored immediately upon being substituted into the game, it threw the gate wide open. More territory and better offence, the South Africans rushed forward more often and Ruhan Nel profited with a double-bag of tries.

At the end, Fiji could not make any impression, and with the new Sevens Series final system only allowing for seven minutes per half (reduced from ten minutes previously), the South Sea Islanders ran out of time. Disappointed, captain Osea Kolinisau was diplomatic in his praise of the more superior Blitzbok team.

South Africa Win First Wellington Tile Since 2002

Taking the Wellington Sevens 2017 title, South Africa showed their true credentials. A polished side, it appears that they may be hard to topple, so for the sides drawn with them at the Sydney Sevens, will need to be on fire, to have any chance.

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Sydney Sevens Draw

The HSBC ‘Player of the Tournament’ was Seabelo Senatla. Most will not argue with that, as he scored multiple tries and was also a provider for others. Next weekend is his final sevens tournament, before joining Super Rugby in a bid to promote his XV’s career. LWOR wish him all the best.

 

The Lowdown ‘Magnificent Seven’

LWOR contributor Jovilisi Waqa intently watched this weekend from Fiji. He found the action to be as riveting as ever. Noting that some of the teams outside of the ‘Top Four’ were not recognised for their efforts, Jovi has nominated his Team of the Weekend.

George Horne (Scotland), Pouli Teaupu (Japan), Alamada Motuga, Laloii Leilua (Samoa), Vilimoni Koroi, Alivereti Veitokani (Fiji) Lucas Gonzalez Rissoni (Argentina)

Pouli Teaupu was the leading player on the DHL Performance Tracker for most of the weekend, only being toppled by Senatla in the final match. The Japanese star will hope to take his form far into 2017. If his team can finally challenge some of the top-tier sides, then they can become more consistent and reach further up the field.

The Sevens Series now heads to Sydney Sevens and LWOR will continue to bring you full coverage of the 2016/17 World Series in the weeks and months ahead.

“Main photo credit”

 

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