With high temperatures, high tempo, and high drama, there was a ‘total blackout’ at the HSBC Sydney Sevens, as the Kiwi men and women took away Cup Gold on Sunday.
In the ever evolving game of Rugby Sevens, fans are learning to expect the unexpected. Gone are the norms, with surprises seen every season and the Sydney Sevens was one of those. In as much the quality of matchplay, in the teams to reach the knockout stages that also surprised. Spain reached the men’s quarterfinal, while the Irish women progressed to their first Sevens Series semifinal.
However, in the end, New Zealand grabbed their second ‘double title’ reward on Australian soil last night – they won the Commonwealth Games titles in April – with the Men’s and Women’s cup finals dominated by the World Champions. Each progressing to the finals, and earning more gold at the Sydney Sevens, taking their titles back to the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Sydney Sevens in total Blackout; Kiwi Men and Women take Cup Gold
The Black Ferns Sevens continued their unbeaten run from last year, now extending their winning run to 36 Sevens Series games [48 in all competition. including Commonwealth and Rugby World Cup Sevens results). Their last defeat in fact was at the Sydney Sevens last year, to the hands of the Australians – so captain Sarah Hirini and her team of world beaters, turned the tables on their hosts, to win 34-10.
On their march to Gold, the All Blacks Sevens ended Fiji’s 21 game unbeaten record, when defeating them in the semifinals, 36-14. It as not a clean game, with Fiji playing with just five men at one stage of the game. That upset the usual high standards of the Olympic champions, and New Zealand did not need another invitation – defeating Fiji to open a path to a Cup final against (who else) the USA Eagles 7s.
— All Blacks Sevens (@AllBlacks7s) February 3, 2019
The All Black Sevens saved their best for Day Three of the weekend, running through the US team in the final. In probably their best display in several years, this young team were also playing without co-captains Scott Curry and Tim Mikkelson. Playing very, very well and it was a great effort by on-field leader Sione Molia and all the Kiwi men.
To end the weekend in a reversal of Hamilton, England overcame Fiji 19-17 to take the bronze in the Men’s playoff, with Team USA humbling Ireland 26-10, in the women’s bronze medal match.
NZ Sevens double, American Consistency and Fiji’s Achilles heel
When Australia made it a ‘double delight’ in 2018, it seemed an incredible accomplishment. Few nations can manage to evenly match their men’s and women’s achievements – but the Kiwis are becoming experts at it! This is the third time in 12 months, that the two champion squads have matched the others winning journey. Now that is quite amazing, especially when you consider the opposition in rugby sevens today.
The women; more so than the men, seem unbeatable. Their culture is so polished and perfected, that even if Allan Bunting says his team ‘still has room to improve’ then all other Women’s Sevens Series teams should be worried. The men rebounded well, after losing in the semifinals in their home leg of the World Series. That will please Clark Laidlaw, as his squad aim to qualify for the 2020 Japan Olympic Games.
In a season of surprises, the Black Ferns Sevens dominance is becoming a common theme, yet even their standard of game has been matched by the rise and rise of the US teams. Every lover of rugby sevens is beginning to recognize the United States as a real threat to the existing top-tier.
The US men played in the their fourth straight final over the weekend against the Kiwis (who they also lost to in Dubai). Even though they have not won a title, their consistency should be applauded. A team known for their inconsistency, they have really stepped it up and are finding their feet under Mike Friday.
They have finally found reward in the players that they have been developing, to challenge traditional giants Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa consistently. Both men’s and women’s sides are bursting with talent – they could be welcoming back newly-crowned Super Bowl winner Nate Ebner (as he hasn’t ruled out a comeback to Sevens). Depth, consistency and the will to win will be what their two squads need, moving forward to the North American legs of the sevens circuit.
The horizon certainly looks promising for the Americans.
Who would have thought or predicted the Americans to be sharing the lead on top of HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series table after four tournaments. And it is not only the Men’s side who are making milestones, their Women’s team is ranked second in the Women’s Sevens Series standings.
The women's and men's @WorldRugby7s series tables look like this, during the break before the #USA7s in March.
Not a breakaway top four, but with Olympic qualification on the line, keeping in contact now, is going to help your nations chances of going to #Japan2020 pic.twitter.com/xQ16wbBoS6
— scott hornell (@scotthornell73) February 4, 2019
Surprise packages of the 2018/19 season thus far
We have all seen how their men’s national team rule the XVs rugby world recently; despite their loss to England over the weekend. Yes, the surprise package was the women in green, the ladies from the Emerald Isles.
The feisty Irish women’s team reached their first semifinals over the weekend at the Sydney Sevens. It was a longtime coming for the Lucy Mulhall led side, to reach the heights where many pundits said they would, if they showed consistently. It has been a great season for them so far, with good outings in the opening two rounds as well. It will be interesting to see how they will progress from here, with their self confidence at an all time high.
While the Irish and Americans continue to make inroads in the women’s game, the Spanish Men’s team are doing the same. The Pablo Feijoo coached side seem like the easy beat on paper but three Cup Quarters appearances this season will have you asking “really? are Spain that good?”
Under the leadership of Plo Pla, the answer is Yes. Feijoo’s young brigade continue to impress. They play the game like Fiji, a little bit unorthodox but structured too which can be confusing to opposing teams. Still, they can be hot and cold, their unpredictability is the key to their success thus far. Let’s hope they continue to build on this momentum.
LWOR standouts at Sydney Sevens 2019
Three tournaments down, LWOR Sevens has seen the emergence of a certain Irish lass, Eve Higgins. She is strong on contact, runs beautiful lines, carries well and is there in support when needed. You only have to look at the overall DHL Impact Player overall board to see how hard she works. Move over Ruby Tui, Michaela Blyde, Vani Pelite and Alena Mikhaltsova, the ‘Irish Assassin’ is here, killing it.
Two of our players make the @WorldRugby7s Dream Team 💪🏼
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 3, 2019
Vilimoni Botitu is the LWOR Sevens standout thus far in the Men’s Series. The former U20 fly half has really grown into his role as rover with the Fiji team. It’s a specialist role, and he fits in well. Listen to Gareth Baber speaking to LWOR about Botitu. He currently sits second to Sione Molia in the overall DHL Performance Tracker board.
Samoa’s Alatasi Tupou continues to work hard, as does Bobby Mitchell for England. Sometimes the glory goes to others, but Last Word on Rugby always recognizes effort. From the adventourous running of Ellia Green, to the amazing try from Fatima Rama of Papua New Guinea. She burned the New Zealand defence, to score her teams second ever try of the series.
Fiji’s Achilles heel exposed at Sydney Sevens
They have won everything in Sevens Rugby; except the evasive Commonwealth Games Gold medal. Add to that, the Fijians are flamboyant and unstoppable when on song but have never won back-to-back tournaments in consecutive weekends. While they were on cloud nine at the Hamilton Sevens last weekend, they turn around and struggled in Sydney. Fans know they are working hard to overcome that. Not only that, as we heard above from head coach Gareth Baber, looking hard at disciplinary problems.
They usually show up when the Fiji boys look fatigued or losing. One thing that the Kiwis have really exploited over the years, is getting on their nerves and heads. Kurt Baker has mastered the art, like at the Commonwealth Games Gold medal playoffs and Rugby World Cup Sevens. Fiji lost the plot when they let him get into their head. It’s a major contributing factor whenever Fiji loses a game. An Achilles heel that has to be addressed surely.
Sevuloni Mocenacagi was red carded for a tip-tackle in the men’s semifinal match. It was not a great effort, and he was punished for it. However, that tackle was similar to what Vilimoni Koroi did the weekend before, where he was yellow carded by the same referee Damon Murphy of Australia.
This decision sent Fijian fans on social media into frenzy, and the ever aggressive and ‘in your face’ Kurt Baker added fuel to the fire, with his fist up try scoring celebration. It was not a professional act, and only underlines that players ability to get under opposition players skin.
The one note here is, that repercussions should occur for illegal tackles. But fans ask for consistency from the match officials. If anything, the referee should consider both tackles, and a statement by World Rugby Sevens administration should promote fairness, as well as demanding it from players and coaches.
Sydney Sevens in total Blackout; Kiwi Men and Women take Cup Gold
Sydney it has been nice seeing you host the event again, and boy was is Hot out there on Sunday but, empty seats speak volumes. Maybe its time to go back to Brisbane, or even Adelaide or the Gold Coast, to rotate hosting. In 2019, the crowd hasn’t been the same.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) February 4, 2019
All in all it was a great tournament for the Kiwis, Irish and Spain but most of all the Americans.
Can the trendsetters continue their form that will be seen.
The Men’s head to the USA Sevens from March 1-3, and the Women to Kitakyushu in April
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images