Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hong Kong 7s Day 2 Recap

It was another late night/early morning full of rugby 7s watching the action from Hong Kong. The USA had an interesting first match on Day 2, taking the field against Scotland just as the rain began to pour and, despite being a mid-day kickoff, it looked like the dead of night with the darkness. Both teams had to adjust to conditions and ultimately Scotland did the better job with tightened continuity yielding crisp passing and a 15-10 win.

The game turned in the first half when Danny Barrett from the USA powered down to about 3 meters from the try line and popped a pass from the ground.... straight to a Scotland player for an intercept that was returned 95 meters the other way. Whether it was poor communication, poor support, or a poor decision, the result yielded a 10 (or 12 given USA's accurate conversions this series) point swing the other way in a game that was decided by a mere 5 points. Also noticeable - lineouts continued to be an issue for the Eagles squad and in the game of 7s, a failure to secure set pieces and take advantage of penalties (as in they kicked away to touch only to turnover the ball in the lineout) leaves many unscored points on the board. Against teams like South Africa and Fiji this leads to efficient turnover tries and must be addressed if the Eagles want to earn their way into the Cup rounds rather than hope for pool play magic and positive point differentials. Fortunately this is a fixable issue.

Other games to note included Wales-Kenya that went down to the wire, Portugal-Argentina if you're into a lot of kicking (I found it rather boring but some people like the territory game) and anything Fiji as they lit up their opposing beating Sri Lanka 56-0 in one of their pool play games and scored 141 points while conceding only 12. England proved somewhat careless again with penalties and a yellow card for a silly infringement, but as in Tokyo they scored when it mattered and came away undefeated in pool play.

In fact, there were an unusual amount of cards in this tournament as Samoa later held on to beat Scotland in the final minute despite a 7 v 6 advantage to the Scots, Portugal had a carded player that doomed them against Argentina,  Sri Lanka received a yellow vs Fiji, South Africa received one against Spain for jersey pulling (after Spain had been warned for the same thing) and France had 3 players sent to the sin bin vs Australia. Perhaps it was the rain?

As the Cup round kicks off there should be some amazing games played. Australia's coach Mick O'Connor is coaching his final Hong Kong 7s and their side has been impressive. Canada is also strong, fast, and reliable in making their 4th Cup Quarterfinals and could move as high as 6th in the iRB standings as Argentina, Samoa and Kenya in the Bowl. New Zealand is on a bit of a tear and looking to make up for their 4th place finish at Tokyo 7s. And Fiji looks nearly unstoppable - but the Eagles had their numbers in Tokyo and could prove more than just a roadbump. That game is at 11:28pm EST.

In the Qualifier matches Japan, Russia, Italy and Hong Kong advance to the semifinals. The winner gets a core spot in the next year's series; my money is on Japan to take it! But the home side Hong Kong has looked excellent too. Russia wasn't as impressive in the game I watched vs Zimbabwe as they had quite a few ball handling errors and played a little slowly. Italy is a team I'd keep an eye on in coming seasons too!

Here are the iRB recaps.... I didn't make it past 4am due to all the hour breaks and the earlier rain delay in the action. Hong Kong 7s with their set up makes for some long days of game play and as a player in training myself, I just couldn't answer the alarm set for 5:15am when I had only shut my eyes at 3:50am. Thankfully I was able to pause the iRB stream and should be able to catch up on a few key matches before the action tonight! Highlights from the main draw are here, from the qualifier here.

Australia impress on day two in Hong Kong
(IRB.COM) Saturday 29 March 2014
 Australia impress on day two in Hong Kong
Australia play Canada, England meet South Africa, Fiji await USA 
and New Zealand face Wales in the Cup quarters in Hong Kong
By Tom Chick in Hong Kong
Australia were one of four sides to win all three of their pool matches to secure their place in the quarter finals of the 2014 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.  

Michael O'Connor, who is coaching in his final Hong Kong Sevens, saw his side beat the current Series leaders South Africa 10-7 with tries from Ed Jenkins and Greg Jeloudev to set up a quarter final with Canada who will compete in their fourth successive Cup competition. 

Defending champions Fiji beat Kenya 43-5 to top Pool B, after Vatemo Ravouvou had earlier scored 21 points in their 56-0 defeat of Sri Lanka, and will face USA who snuck through on points difference ahead of Samoa and Scotland as Pool D runners-up. 

In Pool C England's Dan Bibby scored 14 points in their win over Portugal before Dan Norton added two tries in the pool decider with Canada, a match they won 14-7,  and they meet Neil Powell's South Africa in the quarters in So Kon Po.  

New Zealand beat Samoa 26-7 and USA 17-7 on day two to book their progress with a 100% record and they will meet Wales after Sam Cross scored at the death to give Wales a win over Kenya, before they beat Sri Lanka. 

It is their first quarter final since the second round in Dubai but the biggest cheer of the day came as Mithun Hapugodage scored both of Sri Lanka's tries in their 47-12 defeat.
In the Bowl Argentina will play Spain, France await Portugal, Sri Lanka meet Samoa as they still look for a first win as the non-core side competing in Hong Kong and Scotland face Kenya.  

Ben Ryan, Fiji coach: "Two long days but the boys are staying focused on the field which is the most important thing. It is great to be here, you have to be careful as you don’t want to over-egg things. We try to keep things simple and we make sure we plan well. There are lots of distractions and lots of support, so you try to cocoon the boys a little bit so they can do what they need to do on the field. Good to have Wais with me, he adds to that motivation side of things, so we’re making a good team today.” 

Mick O’Connor, Australia coach: “10-7 so very tight, but I thought we played well. We always have a tough game against them and I am happy with that win. They beat us in New Zealand in similar conditions, but this time we had the edge. I think these boys continue to get better the more they play with each other and the older they get and now we're looking forward to Canada tomorrow.” 

Wales physio Dan Jones, on the short turnaround between their two final pool matches: “What you saw there was the boys digging in. I think there was about an hour recovery between matches so it was all about a quick recovery drink and keeping them warm before that match. The key now is to get some food on board, back to the hotel, ice baths, some treatment and plenty of rest.” 

Ben Gollings, leading-points scorer in history of World Series and former Sri Lanka coach: “I went to have a chat with them (Sri Lanka) earlier. It is all to gain and nothing to lose being here. I told them to give it everything and make the most of the occasion because they’ll get a lot out of it and they could be here in the qualifier next year. 

"Fiji have turned up red hot here, South Africa the same, so it is all to play for. My home team England, I’d love to see them in the final and New Zealand will be buoyed to reach it so lots to look forward to.”
Gavin Hastings, HSBC Ambassador: “Unbelievable here. We were just waiting for the heavens to open and as soon as Scotland hit the field it rained! Good performance from them though. You sense the opportunity these teams have here, that is what is all about.” 

George Gregan, HSBC Ambassador: “Not really the conditions you find in Australia. That was ridiculous. I looked at Ben Gollings, and we couldn’t believe how dark it was at midday! For Mick O’Connor this is a really special tournament but it is time for a change ahead of the Olympics.”

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