New Zealand, Fiji make quarterfinals at Hong Kong Sevens
HONG KONG (AP) — New Zealand and Fiji struggled to stamp their authority before booking their berths in the quarterfinals at the Hong Kong Sevens on Saturday.
New Zealand led 24-12 at the break but came within inches of losing to Portugal with scrumhalf Nuno Guedes failing to convert his own scrambling try which had tied the scores at 24-24 in the final stages of the pool match. The final kick of the match was just wide of the uprights.
“We didn’t deserve to win that match for sure,” said an unhappy New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjejns. “We didn’t play smart footy and made so many errors and missed so many tackles. We made it tough for ourselves.”
Fiji beat minnows Belgium 38-7, but head coach Ben Ryan was far from happy with the performance.
“We didn’t play with any intensity. With all respects to Belgium, we knew we were going to win but I hoped for a much better performance,” Ryan said. “That was a two-out-of 10 and if we have another performance like that in the knockout stages we are going to lose.”
Fiji finished the pool competition, beating Canada 45-0 later in the day, and will play England in the quarterfinals.
“Overall I’m happy. We are three out of three and got no injuries. We have done what was expected of us and on an 11-game winning streak,” Ryan said. “But England are playing well and will offer us a challenge.”
Defending champions New Zealand will face Argentina in the quarterfinals while the other two games will pit the United States against Samoa while South Africa take on Australia in the last match-up.
With the Olympics Race to Rio in full flow - the top four teams at the end of the nine-legged World Series gain automatic entries - winning the Hong Kong Sevens is crucial to the plans of leaders South Africa (93 points), who have never won in Hong Kong.
The Springbok Sevens have hired the services of a psychologist traveling with the team for the first time and hope they can win the mind games on Sunday.
“We are happy with the way we are going but the real test starts now,” said coach Neil Powell after South Africa emerged unbeaten with pool wins over France, Argentina and Japan.
New Zealand is in second spot in the World Series on 88 points, five behind the Blitzbokke, followed by Fiji (86) and Australia (71). England are in fifth place on 68 points and will need to finish in the last four at least to keep alive their hopes of qualification.