There is no actual final for the HSBC World Sevens Series, but the Fiji versus USA semifinal of the London 7s last weekend can safely be seen as Part 1 of the decider for this year’s series. And if things go to form, the second and final part will happen at the Paris 7s this weekend.
Fiji beat the USA 17-10 last Sunday in what could prove THE pivotal result of the whole series.
That win, which Fiji followed up with an easy 43-7 win over Australia in the final, meant that the Pacific Islanders had finally edged ahead of the Americans in their season-long battle at the top of the HSBC Sevens leader board.
Watch highlights of the London 7s here:
The USA have topped the table after all eight of the previous legs (although the Fijians were co-leaders with them after the third leg in Hamilton, New Zealand), but with just the Paris leg to go, they suddenly find themselves two points behind.
Another semifinal clash on the cards
But ultimate victory is still very much in the Americans’ hands.
This weekend, they are in Pool C, together with Canada, Samoa and Spain, and if they win the group, as form indicates they will, they are then on a path to meet Fiji in one semifinal.
Just to add to the tension, USA coach Mike Friday has accused the Fijians of illegal crawling at the rucks during the London semi-final, and said the match was not properly refereed.
But first the Fijians face a tricky group with Ireland, Argentina and England but should nevertheless win Pool A.
So mark down that first semifinal as the match that should decide who wins the whole shebang. Whoever wins that match should then go on to win the whole series.
See how the teams are grouped here:
However, there could well be a tie should USA beat Fiji but then lose in the final while Fiji wins the third-place playoff. The winner will then be decided by the overall difference between points scored and points conceded.
Of course, the two teams could also meet in the final, should one of them not win their pool as they are expected to, and end up on the opposite side of the draw.
Should that happen, and Fiji and USA keep winning, a meeting in the final could well be a fitting finale for the tournament and also the series.
Neither team have won Paris 7s
Fiji have been in this situation before, most notably last year.
Twelve months ago, they went into the Paris leg holding a seven-point lead over South Africa, However, the Fijians lost in the quarterfinals, 17-10 to England, while the Blitzbokke beat the English 24-12 in the final to win the Paris 7s tournament and snatch the series by two points.
Probably more scarring for Fiji was the very first World Sevens Series in 2000, when they carried a six-point lead over New Zealand going into the final leg, also in Paris, but were upset 21-35 by Argentina, while the Kiwis romped home to win the tournament with a 69-10 thrashing of South Africa in the final, and beat the Fijians to the top of the table by six points.
Indeed, Paris hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Fijians, who have never won there.
But then again, neither have the Americans, who, despite leading almost throughout this year’s series, have won only one leg — in Las Vegas.
The Fijians, on the other hand, have won four of the nine legs, and on that basis alone would probably be considered worthy winners if they come through to win.
Their key men, especially rookies Meli Derenelagi, Vilimoni Botitu and Aminiasi Tuimaba, took a while to get going but were unstoppable once they hit their stride, especially in the win over USA.
But inconsistency has been their downfall this season, and the only reason they haven’t wrapped up the title, and should they slip up at all in Paris, then the Americans will be poised to strike.
The USA welcomed three key men — Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo and Danny Barrett — last week from injury but none of them made a real impact. Should they hit top gear this weekend, we will be in for an exciting finish to the series.
Clear Olympics Sevens picture
The other upshot of the London 7s was that three of the four places slated for the Olympics for the top four finishers of the HSBC World Sevens Series are now known, with Fiji, the USA and New Zealand clinching their spots.
England was the only team in with a chance of catching fourth-placed South Africa, but they had a miserable tournament on their own turf, starting with a loss to Ireland and culminating with a 14-29 loss to Japan, their first-ever defeat to the Japanese.
Consequently, the Blitzbokke are virtually there, needing to just start the tournament to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Finishing stone-cold last would be enough to give them the point they need.
The other teams will now have to go back to the regional qualifiers and then a last-chance saloon repechage tournament for a chance to qualify.
Relegation battle down to the wire
The other outstanding matter for Paris is to find out which team will lose their status as a core member of the series, with one of Wales, Kenya and Japan in line for the drop.
Wales, on 30 points, will be in the same pool as Kenya, who are on 27, and their meeting will be crucial.
Japan, currently in the final relegation spot on 25 points, will hope to get something from their pool, which contains heavyweights New Zealand and France and inconsistent Scotland.