Oceania success for Samoa, Cooks and US Samoa
Misioka Timoteo scored a hat-trick of tries as Samoa upped the intensity of their game to defeat hosts Fiji 31-17 and win their fourth Oceania Sevens title in Suva on Saturday.
While Samoa claimed the region's bragging rights for the year, Cook Islands and American Samoa performed heroics to qualify from the event for the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, round seven of the World Series this season.
With a young side looking for a good build-up to next week’s Series curtain-raiser on the Gold Coast, Samoa defeated Cook Islands 48-0 in the semi-finals then scored a first-ever win over Fiji in Fiji.
“We’ll enjoy the win today and start worrying about the Gold Coast next week," said Samoa's new coach, Viliamu Punivalu.
“We fly back tomorrow, and meet up with four other players who are training back in Samoa. And from there we head across to Australia.”
Timoteo scored two early tries to help Samoa race to a 19-0 lead as Fiji suffered a yellow card in the first few minutes to Ilai Tinai followed unfortunately by half-back Kelepi Namoua breaking his leg.
With a vocal crowd urging them on, Fiji fought back to 19-12 before the break, but Samoa continued their near faultless display in the second half to pull away.
For Ben Ryan, who takes over as Fiji coach from Alifereti Dere tomorrow, the tournament was also an eye-opener on how rugby is played in the Pacific Islands.
“For about three minutes, we weren’t quite on point and Samoa kept the ball for a very long period,” Ryan said. “They scored 19 points in the first four minutes – that was probably the pivotal moment when we had a yellow card.”
Defending champions Australia, having fallen to Fiji 31-17 in the semis, finished strongly to take third place with a 49-5 win over the Cook Islands after a brace of tries each from Tom Lucas and Peter Lee.
As consolation to the Cooks, they qualify for the 2014 Hong Kong showpiece and will be accompanied by American Samoa, who snapped up fifth place with a 29-19 victory over Papua New Guinea.
Tiny Tuvalu, with a population of just 9,800, had to settle for the wooden spoon after losing to Solomon Islands 33-0 in the seventh place play-off.
Viliamu Punivalu, Samoa coach: “I think Fiji did a great job hosting the tournament. It would be nice if Fiji does host a tournament in the IRB Sevens Series one day. That would be ideal for us being close to home and the weather as well as the atmosphere.”
Ben Ryan, incoming Fiji coach: “For me, this was a chance to get to know the players. I thought Fiji played with a lot of enthusiasm and commitment. They played with very good team spirit. I’m extremely grateful for all the work that Alifereti Dere has put in; he was prepared a really good side for me to inherit.
Chad Tuoro, Cook Islands coach: “I’m happy that we have qualified for Hong Kong. Now it’s a matter of going back and implementing a programme that will help us maintain these players. Our challenges are the lack of funding and the spread of players in Australia, New Zealand and Rarotonga so getting them together to train is something we need to work on.”
“Next year, four of these players who play Fifteens may be coming back for the RWC 2015 qualifiers against Fiji. So we’ve come along way and hopefully all these will encourage funders to support us and the sport.”
Michael O’Connor, Australia coach: “We have a tough pool at the Gold Coast Sevens with Argentina, Samoa and Scotland and we need the best players. Probably only two from this young squad will be called up. We still have a lot of work to do like improving our defence, in the breakdown and the restarts.”
Warren Jennings, PNG manager: “We played terribly. It’s finished for us this year. We have to wait again for the next Oceania Sevens to try again. We need some fresh players and with PNG likely to host the Oceania Sevens next year, we’ll try harder.”
Setefano Fata, American Samoa coach: “This is a milestone achievement for us. It’s our third time in the Oceania Sevens, so I guess its third time lucky for us. As coach, I am very happy. I hope this win and getting to play in the 2014 Hong Kong Sevens will boost rugby in American Samoa.”
Tuvalu coach Etonia Veibataki: “It’s a learning curve for us. This was to be our first Oceania 7s. We really learnt a lot from this tournament. We hope to be back next year. I guess we need a lot more exposure. Rugby is only six years old in Tuvalu while in Fiji they are celebrating 100 years, so we still have a lot of catching up to do. We have 10 clubs from eight villages.”
Solomon Islands manager Freddy Kafoa: “We came into the tournament ranked seventh, and we go back as seventh place winners. It’s a learning experience for us because we only have three old heads in Leslie Puia, Felix Qalo and Stewart Baiabe. We’d like to return to Fiji for the Marist Sevens next year. We realise we need more games of this level to improve.”