HONG KONG, CHINA – The 2016/2017 World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series has been different from the last few iterations. This edition of the series had one constant surrounded by a cyclone of unpredictability. South Africa making the cup final seems to be the one constant, as it has happened in every leg. However, almost everything else has been impossible to predict, with upsets littering each day. The 7th leg in Hong Kong was no different. HK7s was filled with tense matches, upsets, dramatic finishes, and incredible play. As they have done before, the USA surprised pundits and topped their pool. The knockout stage led to a Fiji win.
USA Finishes 4th:
The @Eagles7s had great tournament. They have now qualified for the cup playoffs in 4 straight tournaments since the Wellington disaster. They continue to fall short in the Cup semi-finals, unfortunately, but secured another 4th place finish. The USA won ugly against Russia. The offense didn’t work well in their first game but it worked well enough. They scored early in the match and played great defense, as their attack wasn’t firing on all cylinders. The USA managed to score a second converted try late in the match before Russia scored late in the game. It was too late, though, because the final whistle blew shortly after, giving the Eagles as a 14-7 win.
Following that win, the Mike Friday’s squad was next up against an improving Scotland side. The Eagles offense had no problems getting into high gear at the start, as they were up 19-0 at the half. The Scots bounced back int he second half to tighten up the match but the USA defense held out, as they won, 19-14. Next, the USA had to take on the always-dangerous Argentina in their last match of the round. The North Americans had already locked up a seat in the Cup playoffs but they were out to prove that they were the better team in Pool play. It was to be the USA’s most complete performance against a quality side in a long time, as they went on win in dominating performance, 33-5.
Day 3 for the Eagles had one huge up, one big bummer and a meh final game. The USA shocked a lot of on-lookers as they defeated England. It was not that USA had an upset in a cup quarterfinal, it was that the USA just looked like so impressive and won so comprehensively. Those not familiar with the standings would have have thought the USA was the higher-ranked side going into the match, as the USA won 27-7. If you read our introductory paragraph, you will notice that we had “almost” in italics. That’s because one thing that has become expected over the last 3 tournaments, much to the dismay of USA fans, is that they will play a nail-biter in the Cup semifinal against South Africa. And this was no different. It was yet another match filled with intensity. Fans like me were hyperventilating as it went down to the wire tied, saw had an incredible comeback from the USA and needed extra time before the Blitzbokke prevailed. Just like in Canada, the USA were too drained from their semi-final match to be at their best for the 3rd place match. They put a brave fight and hung close but didn’t have enough gas in the end and fell short 26-19… The following match vs Australia was another gut-wrencher, as the Eagles fought back to get within two at 21-19, only to have their hearts bruised a bit with match-sealing try by the Aussies. Final tally 26-19.
The Fabulous Fijians:
The Flying Fijians 7s side were fabulous in Hong Kong, the Granddaddy of the tour. There is a reason that the series qualifier tournament is also held here. I say that because the Fijians are the most popular side in 7s, with the greatest 7s player ever, and though they don’t always win, they play the game with the joy and sublime skill that 7s was meant to be played. All of this history means that is it is rather fitting that Fiji won this leg 3 years straight and put together their best effort in this grandest of venues… The Fijians met the Blitzbokke in the Cup final and after a slow start to the first half, the Fijian flair started to show, as they opened up the SA defense to score two tries. They didn’t stop there, as they continued to pour it on in the second half. The South Africans showed signs of fatigue from their classic tangle with the USA. The Fijians managed to shut-out the South Africans for a 22-0 win. Considering the Fijians drew Wales and barely got past New Zealand in pool play before playing their best in the knock out round especially the final, that score line surprised a few people.
Despite a rough start to the Series, Australia seem to be finally in sync. The Aussies were undefeated in pool play, including a narrow victory against England to top the pool. They played well in the cup quarterfinal but then fell to Fiji once again, because of poor composure and silly errors during the match. As stated above, they bounced back to knock off an exhausted USA in the 3rd place match. They are now 6th in the overall standings, just points behind the Eagles.
New Zealand keeps trying to find themselves. With significant player turnover going into the year since there are no 15s players crashing the team trying to win a gold medal, and an interim coaching staff, they remain a dangerous side. They were able to scrape out a tough a win against Argentina to claim 5th place.
After falling short of making the Cup playoffs, Scotland found their footing and went all the way to win the Challenge Trophy, defeating Kenya in a nail biter.
And now, Ladies and Gentlemen… please welcome Spain back to the Sevens World Series. The Spaniards won the 12-team qualifier for core status. The bottom-placed team of this season’s series will be relegated to non-core status. The qualifiers seemed to be a three horse race between Spain, Germany and Hong Kong. After Germany knocked of Hong Kong in the quarters, it was Spain versus Germany in the final. The Spaniards won a very tough and tight contest 12-7, to punch their ticket back to the big show. However, the performance of Germany makes them one to watch in 7s – and 15s too.
Final standings were
Second: South Africa
Fifth: New Zealand
Challenge Trophy: Scotland
The next leg will be in Singapore this weekend. Stay tuned to RWU for another preview and review of the tournament.
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.