With a few manic weeks behind me I’d decided not to go to the London 7’s this year, I went on the Saturday last year and although I enjoyed the rugby I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy the incredibly drunk people. Thanks to HSBC and the offer of a ticket I got the chance to have my mind changed. I got up late after an evening of ‘mum’ dancing and made my way to Twickenham. I arrived at Twickers to find half time looming and England losing 15 nil to Australia in the Cup Semi-final. They’d left things late to get to the semi when playing France, I hoped a repeat was on the cards. They pulled a try back with around 4 minutes remaining but still needed 2 scores, plenty of time to do it in, but a big ask against Australia, a nation where they seem to have been born with a rugby ball in their hands, from one or other code. To the displeasure of the crowd Australia cleared their lines at one point, kicking to touch stealing away away precious seconds. England looked to have scored a try, with basically zero seconds remaining running from their own try line, the try was disallowed for reasons that were hard to determine from the stands. And so the first Cup finalists were decided. Australia would face either Fiji or New Zealand.
The game between the masters of rugby and their islander opponents promised to be a cracker. The first minute saw the All Blacks go very close before a penalty was awarded on the Fiji line. They needed no invitation to storm up the pitch leaving the men in black in their wake Fiji put the first 5 points on the board. The All Blacks looked very weary and after an immense kick by Fiji a knock on by the All lacks offered them a great attacking opportunity. The All Blacks however came away with the ball managing to avoid touch. In the final minute the All Blacks benefited as 2 of the Fiji players attempted to make ground on their own, eventually throwing the ball into the hands of their opponent. New Zealand went in at half time in the lead with the score on NZ 7 Fiji 5. The second half saw the All Blacks awarded a penalty close to the Fiji line in the first minute, however they failed to capitalise as the ball was knocked on. Fiji committed the same error within their own 22 as they attempted to clear the ball, giving the All Blacks a great platform again. A penalty awarded against the All Blacks not only saw Fiji clear their own half but also saw them go over the line to score after a patient build up, if there is such a thing in 7’s rugby. The Fijians had less than 2 minutes to keep hold of their lead to win a place in the final. As with the England game where every neutral in the ground was willing Australia on, all hopes were with Fiji. With no time remaining and a penalty awarded against Fiji the All Blacks had one final play; naturally this was the New Zealand we were watching and they of course scored that try to secure their place in the Cup Final.
I went looking for food after the 2 Cup semi finals and found a very tasty burger, it may just have been less than hugely bad for me, not so sure about the requisite chips! I arrived back in the stadium to see that 2 of the emerging nations on the world stage, USA and Japan, had contested the Shield Final; 7’s at all levels seems to be all about a prize for everyone. The end result was USA 36 Japan 12. I wonder how long it’ll be before we see the USA make their mark in the 15 a side game.
Argentina v Canada were next up playing in the Bowl final. Canada kicked off and retained the ball spreading it across the field they scored the first try after 2 minutes. The 2nd try came moments later as Canada again won the ball from their own kick off, a great individual try scored by no 7 Philip Mack, probably the smallest man on the pitch. A pattern was forming but this time it was Argentina who collected the ball from the kick off to run virtually the length of the pitch to close the gap. Anything the Canadian 7 could do the Argentinian 7 could emulate and having won the ball as they kicked off he ran through, passing to a colleague who scored under the posts. Canada were awarded the 1st pen,any of the game but missed touch, the returning kick gave them a lineout put in but in their own half. Argentina had a man sent to the sin bin as half time approached; Canada didn’t make the most of the extra man with the moments remaining, but would have a start to the 2nd half with a man advantage. The 2nd half saw Canada make use of even more space on the field and they took the lead again with a great try. In a repeat of the 1st half Mack ran in a try after Canada had won the ball from their kick off. Argentina 12 Canada 24 with 4.5 minutes remaining. Canada continued to attack and were awarded a penalty as Argentina didn’t release in the tackle, they ran through but gave away their own penalty as a tackled man failed to release the ball. Canada widened the gap as their Mack scored his hat-trick try after the ball was turned over. Argentina finished the game with a flourish as no 11 Agustin Cortes ran half the pitch along the line. A very entertaining game that saw Canada winners of the Bowl Final Argentina 19 Canada 31.
Kenya and South Africa emerged next to contest the Plate final, South Africa were very quick out of the blocks and the try machine that is Seabelo Senatia found some extra extension In his arm to score. The second kick off was a bit surreal as everyone stood and watched; South Africa took the ball but passed to Kenya giving them their 1st opportunity to attack. They lost the ball however and South Africa ran forward, they were awarded a penalty. Kwagga Smith scored as they spread the ball with little opposition after the tap penalty. South Africa scored their 3rd try with a minute of the half remaining through captain Frankie Horne. The 2nd successful conversion took the score to Kenya 0 South Africa 19. Kenya score a very popular try on half time with Billy Odhiambo scoring, he gave his kicker an easy conversion. Kenya kicked off the 2nd half and South African Senatia scored a superb try as he kicked the ball forward for himself; extending his tally for the weekend and possibly cementing his place as top try scorer in London. Kenya had a very exciting attack but threw the ball away, the unstoppable Senatia scored his hat-trick try. Kenyan hearts were broken again moments later when Jamba Ulengo scored to take South Africa to 38. Kenya had the last word as Tonny Owuor ran in a try, to the delight of the crowd. The game finished Kenya 14 South Africa 38.
England were next to appear as they took on Fiji to decide 3rd and 4th place, to much fanfare as the team on home ground. At all levels of rugby Fiji are an immense physical force the encounter promised to be a tough one. Fiji were to have the early attacking opportunity but the ball was knocked on giving England a chance to get on the front foot. Their attack came to nothing as they were taken into touch. The Fijian no 5 Vincent Inigo broke away after the lineout to score the first try. England’s no 7 Dan Bibby made a great run through only to be caught as he approached the Fiji line. England won a penalty and no 5 James Rodwell powered through to score. Fiji had a man sin binned as he took the England no 10 Christian Lewis-Pratt out as he chased a kick through. The England no 2 Howard Packman scored after the tap penalty was taken as they took advantage of the extra room on the pitch. The scores at half time England 14 Fiji 5. England scored in the 1st minute of the 2nd half as no 6 Tom Mitchell backed himself, eluding the tacklers to score. The next try came from England no 11 Mat Turner as he showed the same elusiveness in slipping through tackles, the gap was widened to England 26 Fiji 5. Fiji added to their tally as no 4 Leo Naikasau touched down in the final minute. A superb side step by the Fijian no 6 Waisea Nacuqu fooled the England defence, he ran in to score. England took 3rd place in the London 7’s with the scores England 26 Fiji 19.
In the final game of the weekend New Zealand and Australia emerged to play for the Cup. A disappointing feature of the day was that many people remained seated as the national anthems were sung. Australia made an early break through as no 4 Tom Lucas scored. They repeated the feat moments later as they scored through no 12 Afa Pakalani. The kick offs were noticeably longer in this game, Australia clearly had different tactics than the teams playing in the earlier games, they certainly worked as again they scored through no 6 Con Foley. New Zealand hit back through a strong try scored by no 12 Ben Lam. They followed with a real team try scored by no 1 Scott Curry. No team can be written off in 7’s rugby especially the men in black! And of course they scored a 3rd try through Scott Curry again. To take the scores to 21 a piece. The All Blacks had conceded tries in the 1st half by failing to retain the ball from the kick off, they made no such mistake at the start of the 2nd and posted the 1st points as no 8 Gillies Kaka scored the 1st try of the half to put them ahead for the 1st time in the game. The scores were level within the minute as Con foley for Australia found the gap to score under the posts; honours even again. The ping pong scoring continued as Bryce Heem for the All Blacks made a great run to put his no 2 Tim Mikkelson in to score under the posts. They then showed the world just how to play 7’s rugby with some great play in the middle of the pitch, Ben Lamb ran in his 2nd try to stretch the lead to 14 points. Another exhibition piece of play as no 7 Bryce Heem who had been waiting on the wing beat the Australian defenders to put the game out of the reach of the Kangaroos. No 3 Sam Myers for Australia threw a great dummy close to the All Blacks line, he scored to make the difference 14 again with little time on the clock. The All Blacks had the last word as no 6 Adam Whitelock, who looked slightly out of place on a 7’s field ran in to score. The game finished on Australia 33 New Zealand 52, a delightful score line for the neutral!
A feature of 7’s rugby that really took me by surprise when I watched it for the first time is the stopping and reversing to find room tactic, the teams who play week in week out are masters of that aspect of what is a specialised version of the game. High level 7’s rugby really is a game for the fast, fit men no looking up and being amazed at the shape and size of some of the men on the pitch. No standard old fashioned props to be seen! I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon at HQ, the atmosphere was a happy, friendly one with lots of children evident. One regret was that many people remained sitting as the National Anthems were sung; we really do end to lead by example and show our children the right way to behave. But, all in all, a great afternoon, thank you HSBC!