IRB Sevens Series- Wellington had it all.
Right from the early pool play and major upsets, the IRB Wellington 7s have shown anyone is beatable & the scene is set for an amazing world cup in a month.
Like no other before it, this Wellington 7s had more upsets and jaw dropping rugby that captivated the crowd of 35,000 & millions worldwide through television.
It started in the early games with Wales accounting for Fiji, later on in day 1 the Kenyans put an end to the South Africans recent dominance with a stunning victory. The energetically vocal crowd pushed them forward, and the people in the stands continued to will the smaller teams on. These great actions seemed to have a ripple effect, teams took notice of this and the so-called minnow teams said- hang on a minute I can beat you! And so they did.
In no particular order we will have a look at some of these results. If you spin the world globe around there are many big countries that are easy to see, some of these are playing on the 7s circuit and they pick from elite athlete training centers and expect to win. If you keep spinning you are struggling to pin point a few little Islands that were also participating, Cook Islands is one & Niue is the other. A mere speck on the map, but these tiny nations became giant tamers in Wellington. Ranked 57th and 60th respectively in the IRB World Rankings for 15-a-side rugby, the Cook Islands and Niue once again showed they are able to truly compete on the world stage in Sevens.
Niue the smallest self-governing nation in the world with a population of just 1,500 started off against Wales and went down a fighting 34-10. They had NZ next and lost 42-7. At this level there is no easy games and next up came Australia who just beat the Islanders 22-17, but the belief was growing and they ended up playing Samoa in the semi final of the Shield. Facing another of the world’s big guns of 7s, Niue produced the match of their lives to down Samoa 21-11. Their big men caused havoc and their unloads were swallowed by men willing to run like their lives depended on it and Samoa had no answers.
Next to put themselves on the world danger radar was the Cook Islands. This team was only thrown together last week and stamped their mark on the international stage. Narrowly loosing to Super power Samoa, they were smoked by Fiji & lost another tight one against USA. What ever they ate, whatever they spoke of or did that evening brought out a monster on day 2 and they carved it up. Along came Australia in the semi final of the Bowl, showing little respect for their fancied opponents the Cooks backed themselves, tackled like demons and ran everything back with conviction. They took a handy lead to the halftime after 3 marvelous tries, this is when the acid is applied and most expect the experienced teams would take over, not today, not against this much guts. Australia started the second spell strongly and was in the right half attacking, runner’s angles were great, side steps were coming out, but every attempt was met with Cook Island steel. A couple of times the Aussies looked certain to score, but along came some man from the Cooks leaping in desperation to save the day.
Joyous scenes followed as they downed the men from down under. This left them in the final & in their way was cousin Island nation Tonga. In rankings Tonga is superior and again the Cook Islanders threw that out the window too, the field was theirs and they applied a fantastic game plan & use of the width of the pitch to run out winners of the Bowl. Wild scenes erupted as they became the winners of the Plate and it is stuff like this that puts thrill in rugby. Too much of life is predictable, like rent & mortgages, it is the unpredictable moments like this that makes us smile and rejoice.
In the super business end of the 7s hometown NZ made the final and played England. Again the theme was classically written to have a twist at the end to keep us all on our toes. NZ raced out to a handy lead and looked on the money to claim the title for the second year running. It was all on with 30 seconds to go but the never say die tale that riddled through this event, England manned up and stole the show with a try under the sticks at the hooter. It was like someone had popped the biggest balloon in the world as cheers turned to tears for NZ.
Full credit must go to England and all the teams on show. What it has done is throw the World Cup wide open. Before Wellington there was talk of invincibility, and consistency from South Africa and NZ, now it is all on as we have seen anyone is beatable.