Samoans Have Found Self Be­lief

Fiji Sun - - Sport - Rob By Vick­er­man TV com­men­ta­tor and for­mer England sev­ens ace Rob Vick­er­man as­sesses the Paris Sev­ens and looks for­ward to this weekend’s Lon­don tour­na­ment. Feedback: leonec@fi­

Eleven years ago the World Rugby Sev­ens Se­ries got a shock at the not so very sim­i­lar Stade Jean-Bouin– an in­spired per­for­mance by the French team spear­headed by Vin­cent Clerc, meant they pro­gressed into un­char­tered ter­ri­to­ries not only top­ping their pool and pro­gress­ing into the Cup, they won it! Fast for­ward the clock and it seemed as through the ro­man­ti­cism of the French cap­i­tal had pre­pared some­thing else spe­cial. The semi-fi­nal line up read as Ar­gentina v Samoa, France v Fiji. Could the French team, now with Vir­imi Vakatawa as the cat­a­lyst, do the un­think­able? Ar­gentina over­came the most in­ex­pe­ri­enced New Zealand team to have played in the se­ries (with just 108 events be­tween them) in the quar­ter-fi­nals be­fore fall­ing to a some­what re­ju­ve­nated Samoan team. Take noth­ing away from the ever im­prov­ing, pa­tri­otic and truly pas­sion­ate Pu­mas, they are find­ing con­sis­tent form and are grow­ing a very tal­ented crop of sev­ens play­ers that are be­com­ing more than ca­pa­ble of chal­leng­ing for Cup runs. The French team had a re­cip­ro­cal re­la­tion­ship with the crowd, promis­ing high qual­ity skills, ef­fi­cient in­ter­link­ing play and a whole heap of pas­sion and pride in ex­change for a typ­i­cally par­ti­san, par­tially deaf­en­ing wall of noise. Sadly for the home sup­port, their sole in­spir­ing Fi­jian flyer wasn’t a match for the 12 on the op­pos­ing team and the in­sa­tiable off­loads kept com­ing and des­per­ate French de­fend­ers ceased to be able to stop the deft touches and in­tel­li­gent run­ning lines of the Fi­jians. At times the big Fi­jian for­wards seemed to have an ex­tra sense of aware­ness that can find a sup­port­ing player at will, aided by arms as long as tree branches that cre­ates a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion to stop.

Gimme Samoa!

What a high­light of the tour­na­ment it was hear­ing two in­cred­i­bly pas­sion­ate an­thems show­ing gi­ants (lit­er­ally) of the game reduced to tears be­fore they very much used all that pa­tri­o­tism to give ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing they pos­sess in what was an en­thralling fi­nal. Samoa, ably lead by both coach Damian McGrath and top per­former and cap­tain Faalemiga Se­le­sele, are cap­tur­ing the con­fi­dence and self-be­lief that saw them in­tim­i­date the se­ries’ teams over many years. Hav­ing lost 42-7 to Fiji in the pool the script was al­most writ­ten at half-time as they were 26-7 down to a Fi­jian team that con­tin­ued to show­case their sim­ply mem­o­ris­ing skills, style of play and won­der­ful ath­letes demon­strat­ing feats that could re-write coach­ing man­u­als.

The power of a half-time talk re­ju­ve­nated the Samoans and Tila Mealoi got on the end of some slick wide pass­ing and hard line off­loads to stop the Fi­jian ma­chine from mo­tor­ing.

Les Mis­er­ables for England

Once again England will cite in­juries and in­ex­pe­ri­ence as be­ing a rea­son for poor form, and that is clearly un­der­stand­able, yet fans are call­ing to know more about why this poor run is con­sis­tent. Hav­ing been in a short slump with an England set-up pre­vi­ously, it can be­come very dif­fi­cult to get over of the ever-in­creas­ing pres­sures which isn’t helped by al­ways be­ing third seeds in the group and fac­ing teams such as South Africa and Aus­tralia in the pool stages.

Ir­rel­e­vant of this, England must de­velop their be­lief in their at­tack. De­fen­sively, they sel­dom make many er­rors (England were the third best de­fen­sively with 24 missed tack­les – and top with an 82 per cent suc­cess rate) but they have lost the po­tency that was al­ways syn­ony­mous with England. Good de­fence is a ne­ces­sity in sev­ens, but what over­rides that is hav­ing fire­power in at­tack. Fiji, con­versely – and to prove this point, were the worst tack­lers in the tour­na­ment (missing 52), yet have scored 241 tries to England’s 136 this sea­son. Granted, Lon­don will see a re­turn of the se­rial at­tack­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Dan Nor­ton, Tom Mitchell, Dan Bibby and Phil Burgess – which should be the cat­a­lyst of a big cou­ple of months, and will end this tough year for the sup­port­ers and play­ers of England.

The French find their ‘joie de vivre’

It has long been said the French game is suited to sev­ens. They coin the term ‘jouer’ mean­ing ‘to play’ and with that should hope to have a game that en­com­passes flair. The French crowd re­acted to ev­ery act of class from Les Bleus – and with hav­ing some­one like the ra­zor sharp Vir­imi Vakatawa, there were not many mo­ments of si­lence. They beat Ar­gentina in a full boar third place play-off- and de­served a wel­comed lap of ap­plause as a pref­ace to the fi­nal. Just how teams counter the right foot step and left hand fend of Vakatawa is a dis­cus­sion that needs to hap­pen, but un­til the plan is cre­ated – he is sim­ply caus­ing chaos. Terry Bouhraoua, Steeve Barry and Stephen Perez all stepped up in at­tack with arc­ing runs and abra­sive car­ries for the home team, and as a re­sult looked far more po­tent.

Por­tu­gal are Agents of Shield

Marvel if you like, but Por­tu­gal showed glimpses to per­haps keep them away from the loom­ing rel­e­ga­tion place by beating the un­der-per­form­ing Welsh team in a fi­nal that had end to end ac­tion through­out. The bal­ance pos­sessed by the wiz­ard that is Nuno Guedes en­abled the likes of the mon­strous Ader­ito Esteves and ef­fer­ves­cent Duarte Mor­eira to get in their stride and cap­i­talise from the newly found restart prow­ess. While all eyes in Lon­don are look­ing on the top of the ta­ble – the bat­tle at the bot­tom has huge con­se­quences as Rus­sia and Por­tu­gal seek to bat­tle to avoid leav­ing the cir­cuit.

Lon­don call­ing for Fiji

Tick­ets have all sold out– and Twick­en­ham, the home of rugby will cel­e­brate the cur­tain call for the best se­ries of rugby sev­ens to date. We have wit­nessed an­other highly com­pet­i­tive tour­na­ment show­ing that the game now has so many po­ten­tial win­ners and there is truly no easy game. Lon­don will stage an­other gru­elling set of pools, but at the end of it there will be a se­ries win­ner – and it is hard to look past that be­ing Fiji.

Fiji are at times breath­tak­ing, of­ten mes­meris­ing, and as we saw of­ten this weekend the high­light of the se­ries. Tak­ing an­other look at the sta­tis­tics in their game, it per­haps shows why they are so good. Look­ing at the phys­i­cal make up of the Fi­jians, they are across the board very tall, pow­er­ful and have an abil­ity to win al­most ev­ery col­li­sion. Throw in some fleet footed play­mak­ers and pace through­out the whole squad and it is no won­der that the tac­tics em­ployed by Ben Ryan work. They fin­ished the tour­na­ment with an im­pres­sive ra­tio of 0.8 rucks to tries. This sim­ply means that they sel­dom ever get tack­led with the ball, keep­ing it alive by an of­fload­ing record that would be the envy of the Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters. Who­ever may take the field in the fi­nal at Twick­en­ham on Sun­day evening, the whole event will be a pre­ces­sion of the qual­ity we have seen on the World Rugby Sev­ens Se­ries be­fore eyes very much turn to Rio and the Olympic Games via the repecharge tour­na­ment in Monaco.

Photo: Zim­bio

The Samoa 7s team per­form their tra­di­tional dance af­ter win­ning the Paris tour­na­ment.

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