New Zealand, Fiji, England command sevens attention

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND (AFP) – New Zealand, Fiji and England emerged as the unbeaten sides in the new cut-throat version of the World Rugby Sevens series in Hamilton yesterday.

Under the format, introduced for the New Zealand round and for Australia next weekend, quarter-finals have been scrapped, pool winners progress direct to the semi-finals and there is no longer a second chance for teams who slip up in pool play.

South Africa, who went into the tournament as co-leaders in the series with New Zealand, did slip up when they missed a conversion with seconds remaining against England and lost 21-19.

It meant England kept their unblemished record after they also beat Kenya 24-19 and have only Japan to play in their final Pool B match on Sunday while South Africa, who beat Japan 31-5, will play Kenya.

New Zealand, who opened their campaign with a 47-0 romp against Wales, finished the day with a 26-5 victory over the highly rated United States (US) side in Pool A.

Co-captain Tim Mikkelson said that with no quarter-final safety net they knew they could not afford to take the USA lightly.

“We circled this one. We said if we lose the game we won’t be playing tomorrow, so a massive effort from the boys,” he said.

New Zealand’s final pool game is against Scotland whose sole win was a narrow 24-19 victory over Wales.

Reigning series champions Fiji, whose best placing this season is a fourth in Cape Town, secured pole position in Pool D with a hard-earned 19-12 victory over Australia which put them on track for a likely semi-final showdown with New Zealand.

Pool C will boil down to who performs best when Canada play Spain and France face Ireland in their final matches before the play-offs.

Canada produced a surprise 26-21 win over Ireland and then battled to a 12-12 draw with France who had finished third in the Cape Town tournament six weeks ago.

New Zealand’s Sione Molia (L) makes a break during the men’s sevens rugby match against the United States. PHOTO: AFP