Once again, the Singapore 7s rugby tournament has been won by a team that is not in the running to win the overall HSBC World Sevens Series title, an “also-ran”, you could say.
But what a win it was! South Africa defeated Fiji, who won the Hong Kong Sevens the previous weekend, in one of the best finals in recent memory, with the “Blitzbokke” coming from 19-0 down at half-time to win 20-19 in heart-stopping fashion.
We have said before the tournament that the Singapore Rugby Sevens, coming just one week after the much-heralded Hong Kong tournament, usually has an anti-climactic air about it, with previous winners including usual also-rans Kenya and Canada.
Series heavyweights Fiji did win in Singapore last year but that was in a year when the two events were separated by several weeks. Including a week competing at the four-yearly Commonwealth Games.
South Africa also-rans? Really?
To call South Africa, who are the defending series champions, “also-rans” may seem harsh and even ridiculous, but the truth is, this year’s Boks team have long lost their grip on the title after a poor start to the season, even though they have now won two legs out of the eight played so far — that is, more than series leaders, the USA.
The three-time HSBC series winners are clearly in a rebuilding phase, having lost several key players recently, including most lately the incredible Rosko Specman, who is now playing Super Rugby with the Bulls.,
In Selvyn Davids, though, the Boks seem to have someone who at least looks much like Specman, down to the running style and dreadlocks, and is beginning to have almost as much influence too.
Coming on at half-time, Davids helped breathe new life into the losing Boks, and drop-kicked the winning penalty goal before sealing the win by sweeping up an ill-advised Fijian kick-ahead in the game’s final play.
It was one of the most astonishing finals in the series and carried on the pattern of almost every deciding-match winner the previous week in HK — Fiji (Cup winners), USA (3rd-place playoff), Argentina (5th-place playoff), Scotland (Challenge Trophy winners), Spain (13th-place playoff) — not being able to win back to back.
Instead, in the Singapore 7s rugby contest, Fiji lost the Cup final; USA were outplayed by England for third; Argentina lost the fifth-place semifinal to Samoa; Scotland lost the Challenge Trophy final to France, and Spain were defeated in the 13-place playoff by Kenya.
Proof yet again that, when it comes to the Singapore Sevens, form and class almost always lose out to fatigue.
Tietjens’ Samoa getting better and better
We’ve said it before and well say it again: Samoa will win a leg of the series sooner rather than later.
We have always wondered how much better a Samoan team would be — good though they often are, with all that natural talent and athleticism — if they had New Zealand levels of fitness and organisation, and we are beginning to see it happening before our eyes.
While Gordon Tietjens’ men have looked noticeably much fitter right from the first leg of this year’s series, they are slowly matching that improved fitness with a lot of verve and confidence in their play and are bringing back memories of the team that memorably won the 2010 series.
For 2010 star winger Mikaele Pesamino, read 2019’s John Vaili; while David Afamasaga, Tofatu Solia and Alamanda Motuga are looking capable of filling the big boots of Alafoti Faosiliva and Ofisa Trevarinus from nine years ago.
There is also lots of pace and playmaking skills starting to take shape elsewhere in abundance, with Tila Mealoi gaining confidence and young pace men such as Paulo Scanlan looking highly promising.
Singapore saw them finishing fifth, but they could have done better. In a group match, Tietjens’ men had a 17-0 lead against New Zealand but let that slip after some premature cockiness and overconfidence, and the All Blacks stormed back to win 26-22.
The story was the same in the quarter-final against eventual champions South Africa. Samoa again went into a healthy 12-0 lead but looked like they believed the job was done. The Blitzbokke thought otherwise and came back to win 21-12.
But Samoa can chalk it up to experience and if they can maintain current fitness levels and build up their effervescent offloading style, they will prove more than handful for all their rivals.
We’re not betting men, but if we were, we’d fancy placing a wager on Samoa repeating their 2010 series win next year — that is, 10 years on from their only other win.
Close tussle at the top
In the meanwhile, the battle at the top comes down to Fiji hot on the heels of the USA.
A Fiji win in the Singapore 7s rugby leg would have seen them draw level with the Americans, with 145 points each. Instead, the Fijians’ loss to South Africa sees them three points adrift on 142, with only two legs to go.
Third-placed New Zealand, after two poor successive legs in Hong Kong and Singapore, have virtually no chance of winning the series. They can win only if they win one or both legs and Fiji and USA don’t make the quarter-final in at least one of the legs – possible but unlikely.
Quite simply, the task for the USA, if they are to win their first series, is to make sure they finish above Fiji in the remaining legs. They don’t have to win either leg; they just have to ensure they finish higher than Fiji.
To this end, the draw for the London leg seems to have been kinder to the USA than to Fiji. The Islanders have in their group the two up-and-coming teams on the circuit — Samoa and France — as well as a rebuilding Kenya., who would have taken some confidence in finishing in Singapore with a playoff win.
If the Fijians make it though they tend have to contend with probably England or New Zealand in the quarterfinal.
The Americans on the other hand have a lacklustre Australian side and Wales in their group along with an off-the-boil Spain, and then have to handle probably Argentina or South Africa in the quarterfinal.
And with Perry Baker and Danny Barrett likely to return from injury, the Americans look like they could even wrap up the series in London.
The only other outstanding issues are whether England (107 points) can catch South Africa (121) for the fourth and final automatic qualification spot for the Tokyo Olympics next year, and who out of Kenya, Wales and Japan will be relegated from the series.