Rugby expert Iain Spragg reviews the Dubai Sevens as South Africa defeat Fiji to get the 2016-17 HSBC World Series off to a pulsating start
Rugby gained an estimated 16 million new fans after sevens made a successful Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro in the summer and the abbreviated form of the game returned to the global stage last weekend as the 18th edition of the HSBC World Series kicked off in Dubai.
This season’s action is being broadcast to more than 100 countries and the opening instalment of the tournament did not disappoint new or long-standing followers alike. South Africa became the first side to overcome recently-crowned Olympic champions Fiji after a hugely entertaining 26-14 triumph over the Pacific Islanders in Dubai’s iconic Sevens Stadium.
Tries from Cecil Afrika and Branco du Preez in the first half and further scores from Chris Dry and the evergreen Seabelo Senatla after the break were enough to give the Blitzboks victory in Dubai for a fifth time since they were first crowned champions back in 2003, ensuring the flying Fijians will not have the 2016-17 World Series all their own way.
“We just needed to stick to our game plan and structure and that’s exactly what the guys did,” said South Africa skipper Philip Snyman. “We never let Fiji into the game and then they were playing catch-up rugby, which I think worked to our advantage.”
England came third in Dubai after their 38-10 win over old rivals Wales, courtesy of a stunning four-try salvo from Dan Norton, but there was a significant setback for 12-time champions New Zealand who collected just 10 points after a chastening 40-0 demolition by South Africa in the quarter-finals.
The HSBC Women’s Sevens World Series in Dubai also witnessed the toppling of Olympic champions as New Zealand beat Australia 17-5 in the final at the Sevens Stadium. The fierce Antipodean rivals had met in the Olympic final in August, Australia emerging victorious in Rio, but the Black Ferns exacted their revenge in Dubai thanks to tries from debutant Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga and Portia Woodman.
“We’ve been up for it all week and the girls have been really excited,” said Kiwi Kelly Brazier, who was named player of the final. “We were happy to make the final but, especially with the rivalry with Australia, we knew we had to get up for it. Those losses to Australia in the past have hurt, so all credit to the girls.”