Pacific Island teams hope to make the crowd go wild again at the Hamilton 7s this weekend.
It's that time of the year when New Zealand rugby fans, especially Pacific Islanders, cram the stands of FMG Stadium and the busy city streets of the Waikato region.
The Fiji 7s men's side is looking to once again defend its 7s title in Hamilton. The side is usually the biggest draw in any tournament they enter and so happens to attract many rugby fans from near and far.
They’ve made a good start, beating Samoa 19-12, although the Samoans put up a strong fight.
The Fiji team has won in Hamilton for the past two years and hopes to lift the trophy for the third consecutive time.
This year's tournament will again host both men and women's competition, as it did last year.
Fiji and Samoa will feature in the men's competition, while the Fijiana side will be the lone South Pacific team in the women's competition.
Tonga is not on the current HSBC 7s series roster and needs to win the qualifying tournaments to be promoted back to the top level.
Interestingly, this year's tournament will not feature any quarterfinal games. The whole quarterfinal stage is being omitted from the layout.
The new format was introduced by World Rugby in the belief that it will lessen the confusion in the finals day for fans, and create better opportunities and balance for women's rugby.
The Sydney 7s tournament will follow the same format, despite opposition from some teams and fans, including Fiji coach Gareth Baber.
The Hamilton 7s started today and will finish tomorrow.
New Zealand currently leads the World 7s series rankings for the men competition with 41 points. Fiji is ranked at 6th place with 23 points and Samoa at 7th place with 19 points. The Fijiana are currently in 8th spot in the women's category with 20 points trailing the New Zealand Black Ferns at number 1 spot with 56 points.
The Pacific nations are set to jet off to Japan with less than a month to go till the opening of the Rugby World Cup 2019. The entertainers of rugby, the South Sea Islanders are looking to once again set the Rugby World Cup stage ablaze.
Tonga, Samoa and Fiji were part of the Pasifika Challenge Event held at New Zealand rugby’s sacred ground, Eden Park last weekend.
Samoa and NZ team, the Heartland XV faced off in the first thrilling encounter, ending with a 36-19 victory to Manu Samoa. The Samoans dictated most of the passages in the game and a strong finish in the second half saw them scoring a total of five tries compared to 3 from their counterparts.
As coach Steve Jackson had mentioned ahead of the match: "We've named an exciting team and there's some guys out there that are going to be playing their first games so it's going to be great for them."
There were three debutants for Samoa, Crusaders tighthead prop Michael Alaalatoa and Southern Tornadoes Number eight Tofatuimoana Solia started in the line-up while Queensland Reds halfback Scott Malolua was among the reserves.
Seasoned at first five eight, Tusi Pisi proved to be decisive as always with Ed Fidow and Ahsee Tuala causing havoc on the wings. Tim Nanai Williams made a timely return to the side at fullback in the hopes of making the World Cup squad selection. He was also a huge factor in Samoa’s attacking game.
Captain and openside flanker Jack Lam led his troops from the get-go and put on a man of the match level performance. The 6.1 ft tall, 103 kg no.7 will be one of the players to watch during the Japan RWC 2019.
The second Pasifika Challenge clash was a tight contest between Tonga and Fiji at first, until the Fijians finally found their rhythm to finish the game 29-19 on top at full time.
Tonga started brilliantly with a tremendous try in the corner to Captain and outside center Siale Piutau to open the exchange, but Fiji immediately struck back with one of their own from Josua Tuisova.
The Tongan forwards were utilising the size and strength up front and the maul was working well for them as they scored one from a lineout drive. A try was awarded to hooker Paula Nagauamo, and was followed by another free-flowing passage and ridiculously good pass and support play by the Flying Fijians giving Vereniki Goneva a taste of the white chalk.
Fiji head coach John Mckee was particularly happy with his boy’s performance but still feel they still have a lot more to offer: “We worked very hard in our phase defence and at goal line defence at times. I think the players also made some good individual tackling in the game. We need to brush up on few areas; when executing the ball which was evident in the first-half.”
Other Fijians to score tries were Semi Kunatani, Captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Sam Matavesi. Tonga manage to get one back, but it was too little too late, as the deficit was too much with time running out.
The Tongans were awarded many penalties in the first stanza but fail to capitalise and convert those opportunities into points. They opted to kick for touch in all occasions. It was obvious that Tonga were not concerned in making easy points in the test match but were rather playing to find the right combination and improve their set pieces as they build up for Japan.
The test match was a stepping-stone to fine tune and brush up on team tactics despite the comments made by head coach Toutai Kefu earlier in the week. "We have our best team on the park, so we want to win. That's our goal”, he said. However, a change in tactics was very evident last Saturday in Auckland.
Tonga has one last test match against the All Blacks this coming weekend with Samoa also taking on the Wallabies to complete their RWC preparations.
Fiji issued their traditional farewell to President Hon. Joiji Konrote at the State House Conservatory today followed by a Sayonara Gala dinner at Sofitel, Denarau before departing for Japan on Friday.
A sporting legend and the man once dubbed the king of sevens rugby, Waisale Serevi’s illustrious rugby journey took on a new chapter when he was head-hunted by the Russians to be head coach of their national rugby sevens team.
The new job took Serevi out of retirement from the sport he has made his mark in, and the man wasted no time in bringing his new charges to where it all began, Suva, Fiji to play in the holy grail of rugby sevens in the island nation, the Fiji Bitter Marist Sevens.
Our freelance sports writer and rugby fanatic, Alipate Pareti took up the challenge to ask Serevi for a sit-down interview, and while the rugby maestro gladly obliged, Serevi skilfully took Alipate’s first question about what retirement has been like, and responded with the signature style that is now copied by many current and upcoming sporting people in Fiji.
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