Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Men's Update from Hong Kong 7s

Hong Kong 7s lived up to its usual fanfare with 3 days (or late nights/early mornings) for those of us watching in North America) of exciting rugby all around in the men's main draw, the qualifier, and the women's invitational. 

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:

New Zealand triumph in Hong Kong
(IRB.COM) Sunday 30 March 2014

 New Zealand triumph in Hong Kong
New Zealand now sit on top of the HSBC Sevens World Series
By Tom Chick in Hong Kong
New Zealand beat England 26-7 to lift the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, round seven of the HSBC Sevens World Series. 

The win, inspired by captain DJ Forbes, puts them back on top of the Series standings, seven ahead of South Africa who won the Plate with Fiji a further 17 points behind having finished third as the defending champions in So Kon Po. 

“It is a great feeling," said an elated Gordon Tietjen. 

"My captain lead so well from the front, he was simply amazing. And also the other players linked in with him, we played a good final. 

“That puts us back on top now, it’s topsy-turvy now which means we need to start well in Scotland, but this will certainly help in going towards winning that title."
Injury-hit SA win Plate
South Africa narrowly held on to beat Wales 19-14 in the final of the Plate to collect 13 valuable Series points thanks to two tries from Jamba Ulengo.  

“It was important for us to win that," said head coach Neil Powell, who lost captain Kyle Brown to injury on day one.  

"We knew when we lost to England in the quarter final we needed to win the Plate to get as many points on the Series log.”
Earlier they proved too strong for the USA 24-19 in the first Plate semi final. 

Turnbull and Johnstone braces in Bowl final
Andrew Turnbull and James Johnstone scored two tries each in the final of the Bowl as Scotland beat France 31-5. 

"Obviously the Samoa game sticks out as a bit of a sore point yesterday but to beat three quality eams today and win the Bowl is great," said captain Colin Gregor. 

"Can't wait to get home now and for the next round of the Series in Glasgow. It is aways a great tournament and hopefully we'll be able to give the fans something to cheer about." 

Earlier Scotland proved too strong for Argentina winning 24-12 while Virimi Vakatawa and Renaud Delmas both scored twice in Les Bleus' win over Samoa.  

Injera fires Kenya to the Shield
Collins Injera moved into third in the all-time leading try scorers on day three as Kenya beat Portugal 17-10 to lift the Shield thanks to the Kenyan's fourth and fifth tries of the weekend.  

“We started on the wrong foot and ended up in the wrong place to where we are supposed to be," said captain Andrew Amonde. "But a positive finish is something we can build on." 

The Qualifier recap from the iRB:

Japan qualify as core side on World Series
(IRB.COM) Sunday 30 March 2014
 Japan qualify as core side on World Series
Japan beat Italy in the World Series qualifier final in Hong Kong
Japan defeated Italy 26-5 in the final of the World Series qualifier to book their place on next season's HSBC Sevens World Series as a core side.  

After victory over Russia in the semi finals of the qualifier competition at the 2014 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, captain Katsuyuki Sakai scored 11 points in the victory against Andy Vilk's Italy,
“We can’t put it into words, now everyone knows Japan can compete at the world level," said an elated Lomano Lemeki after the full-time whistle.  

"We are excited to show what we can do on the next Series. Japan has not been able to compete on the world level until recently and now this is the first step. There is a lot to come from Japanese rugby.” 

Twelve nations set out to qualify on Friday but only one place was on offer as a core team to play all nine rounds of the HSBC Sevens World Series 2014/15. 

Amid high drama in the Hong Kong stadium, Japan overcame Russia 19-14 in sudden death extra time, before Italy out-muscled the hosts, winning 12-0 to make it an Asia-Europe final. 

Last week's hosts Tokyo beat Tunisia 38-7 in the first quarter final with Lote Tuqiri continuing to impress, adding a hat-trick to his tally in Hong Kong. 

Fabrizio Sepe scored the winning try for Italy in sudden death extra time as Andy Vilk's side put out Zimbabwe. 

In the pool stages Japan qualified after adding a 26-7 win against the Cook Islands to their two wins on day one, while hosts Hong Kong defeated Italy 19-0 to maintain their 100% record. 

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