irb.com 28.Aug.2012Getty Images
The Australians delighted the home crowd by beating defending champions Samoa 12-7 in the Oceania Sevens final at North Sydney Oval on Sunday, while Tonga finished third after a tight battle with the Cook Islands.
It was a tense, physical final that went right down to the last seconds. Samoa scored first through a converted Robert Lilomaiava try after an attack that started in their own half.
But Australia struck back through the tournament’s top try scorer Pama Fou to make it 7-5 after a break by captain Ed Jenkins. Australia continued to enjoy possession and pressed but Samoa held them out and held their slender lead at the break.
With tensions mounting Samoa’s Talaga Alofipo received a yellow card early in the second half for a high tackle and while Australia pressed they could not take advantage in his absence. Then, with Samoa back to full strength Allan Faalavaau broke from his own half in centre field to score under the posts and it was 12-7 to the home team.
Further pressure then saw Australia lose possession near the Samoa line and the champions headed down field with pace and numbers. It looked as though Falenui Iosi was set to score the winning try but a last ditch tackle around the ankles by Will Miller cut the Samoan down and Australia hung on to win.
Icing on the cake
Jenkins was delighted with the victory. “The first objective was to beat Tonga in the semi-final and qualify for next year’s World Cup Sevens. The win over Samoa to win the Oceania title is the icing on the cake. It was incredibly close but playing Samoa is always hard and it could have gone either way.
“It was great to be playing at home and it was good preparation for the Gold Coast Sevens that is coming up in October. Like Samoa we had some debutants today and they have now got some excellent experience of top level Sevens under their belt.”
Samoa coach Faamaoni Lalomilo said: “I am really proud of my boys. We left our senior players at home as we had already qualified for the World Cup Sevens next year. I wanted to see how the young players went against some of the top teams in Sevens such as Australia and they showed they have what it takes.
“It was a trial of sorts for them. We have the HSBC Sevens World Series coming up plus the World Cup next year and we wanted to build depth in the squad. A lot of young players put their hands up today which is just what we wanted.”
There was also all to play for in the third place play-off with Oceania’s other Rugby World Cup Sevens place up for grabs.
Cook Islands and Tonga played out an intense first half with both sides having their chances before the Cooks’ broke the deficit through Justin Marsters and then Sailosi Nagi to give them a 10-0 half time lead.
Tonga, however, replied in the first minute of the second half with a converted try and then added another from Sonatane Takulua to give them a 14-10 lead.
The momentum was now with Tonga and when Siosiua Ma’afu scored it looked all over at 19-10. However, Tiakina Manga scored and converted for the Cooks to make it to make it 19-17 to set up a tense last minute, but Tonga deservedly held on for the victory.
Tonga captain Sione Vaiomounga was happy with his team. “We were bad on the first day. We were not prepared to do the work. We took too much for granted but the boys dug deep and we earned a spot at the Rugby World Cup Sevens which is what we wanted. The key was less mistakes and more physicality at the tackle.”
Cook Islands coach Ramsey Tomokino said: “We had our opportunities, many of them, but just couldn’t convert the pressure which is disappointing. We also had to play without our captain Koiahu who suffered concussion in the semi final against Samoa. Top level Sevens is all about taking chances and we didn’t.”
Defending champions Samoa were a class above Cook Islands in the first semi final, jumping to a 12-0 lead after just two minutes which grew to 26-0 by half time. Cook Islands had no answer to a ruthless Samoa but scored a consolation try through Sailosi Nagi. However, the Samoan 52-5 victory was marred by injury to speedster Lio Lolo who would miss the final.
The other semi final was a much tighter and physical affair with Australia edging Tonga two tries to one in the first half to lead 12-7 at the break. Fou then scored his second try shortly after the break to extend the Australian lead to 17-7. Australia then scored a final try through Wallaby Luke Morahan to secure a 24-7 victory and a place at RWC Sevens 2013.
Samoa opened day two with a comfortable 10-try, 62-0 quarter final win over Solomon Islands. Samoan squad depth and strike power was reflected in nine different try scorers to show they were determined to defend their Oceania title. Australia also qualified comfortably for the semi finals with a 55-0 win over Tahiti with Pama Fou scoring four tries.
The two key games in the quarter finals were Papua New Guinea versus Tonga and Cook Islands versus American Samoa to see who would progress to challenge for tournament honours and RWC Sevens qualification.
Tonga, disappointing on day one, was too strong for PNG who were denied any possession and opportunities in the first half. Tonga led 17-0 at half time after scoring three tries, two to Vaiomounga, but PNG stormed back to 17-15 with three unanswered second half tries. With time running out PNG threw everything at Tonga but time ran out for them.
Tonga coach and former Test player Manu Vunipola said: “Everything was on the line in that game. We had to win it to keep our World Cup qualification dream alive. We were poor on day one and talked about it overnight. Today we were hungry and far more focused and aggressive.”
The Cook Islands opened the scoring against American Samoa in a highly anticipated quarter final that became a very tight affair in the first half. The Cook Islanders, superbly led by captain Koiatu Koiatu, scored the only try and led 5-0.
After the break the Cooks Islands’ greater experience and strong defence proved too much for American Samoa, who had been the surprise package of day one with wins over Tonga and Solomon Islands, and the Cooks went on to score a further two converted tries for a 19-0 win.
Oceania Sevens results
Samoa 62-0 Solomon Islands
Papua New Guinea 15-17 Tonga
Cook Islands 19-0 American Samoa
Tahiti 0-55 Australia
Play-off semi finals
Solomon Islands 7-24 American Samoa
Papua New Guinea 47-0 Tahiti
Samoa 52-5 Cook Islands
Tonga 7-24 Australia
Seventh place play-off
Solomon Islands 52-0 Tahiti
Fifth place play-off
Papua New Guinea 24-21 American Samoa
3rd place play-off
Cook Islands 17-19 Tonga
Samoa 7-12 Australia