As expected, the New Zealand 7s side came out on a mission after placing 4th at Tokyo 7s with losses to Fiji in the semifinals and England in the 3rd place match. Led by captain DJ Forbes, who was named to the tournament Dream Team, the All Blacks ran undefeated on the weekend winning their pool over USA, Samoa and Scotland, then beating Wales in the Cup Quarterfinal, Australia in the Semi and notching a win in a rematch with England (who had beaten Tokyo 7s champion Fiji to make the finals) in the Final match.
England were notably impressive with their calm defense over the weekend, smothering Fiji and preventing that side from having any openings for their characteristic freestyle play and breakaway tries. Fiji did not progress past midfield the entire first half of the match. Even better, they were incredibly balanced in their scoring attack. I seem to recall Bibby setting up numerous tries to speedsters Watson and Norton, big men Burgess and Rodwell had solid efforts, while captain Tom Mitchell played fantastically well. Also worth noting -England is a team that has been down several times in the final minute of the match in both Tokyo and Hong Kong but finds that way to win.
What stood out most this weekend was the officiating... it seemed players were carded at a much higher rate than normal, especially France, with numerous yellows and even reds shown to players. Most matches saw games stopped for referee conferences with their assistants and going to the replay booth - unfortunately 2 USA tries were disallowed in their Cup Quarterfinal against Australia that we ultimately lost
That saw the Eagles into the Plate Semi against South Africa - a game that was truly a tale of 2 halves. The first half saw South Africa in the Eagles half of the field the entire time and we were lucky to come away only down 17-0. The second half was a complete turnaround after South Africa scored once more and the Eagles retaining possession throughout kickoffs, played a very team-oriented game in which nearly every player touched the ball in setting up tries, and we came back to within 24-19 and a very real scoring chance in the referee's time. All of this was despite losing our Dream Team player Zack Test in the match.
The draw for Glasgow 7s in May gives the USA every opportunity to make the Cup round again with Australia, Scotland and the soon-to-be-relegated Spain. We've proven we can top Samoa and hang with the likes of Fiji, Australia, and South Africa but now our Eagles need to get some definitive wins over the posession heavy teams like Scotland and France. Our defense and air game have given us plenty of opportunities to win 50/50 and turnover balls but penalties, often for holding on in the rucks, need to be eliminated. Costly points have put us in deficits hoping for 2nd half comebacks - and we've shown we are a great 2nd half team - but to crack the top 10 the Eagles need wins and a lot of them. While we did make back-to-back Cup rounds they were with records of 2-3-1 and 1-4 respectively.
In the Qualifier draw Japan, Hong Kong, Russia and Italy made it through to the Semifinals. The first semifinal saw Japan in a cracker of a match against Russia. The Brave Blossoms came out with a 19-14 sudden death win to make the finals. There it was all business as they rushed out to an early lead and never looked back, winning 26-5 over an Italy team that had played extremely well with their ground game in a 12-0 semifinal win against Hong Kong. Japan earn a spot as a core team for the 2014-2015 iRB series and also get a spot in Glasgow 7s.
Here's the Hong Kong 7s finals recap from the iRB: