Backing up one week to the next in the World Series is tough. I think it’s even tougher after Hong Kong, the three days of competition plus the added adrenaline surge of playing at the So Kon Po Stadium. The pool stages in Tokyo threw up some oddities. Australia beat New Zealand while Fiji handed England a big loss. So the Aussies move closer to automatic qualification, yes? No. They were to lose to an impressive Scotland and Portugal to get bundled into the Bowl, while England went from that loss to their first tournament victory under Simon Amor.
Canada took one of their greatest scalps, beating New Zealand in the quarters to face England. Sometimes the draw helps and sometimes it hinders. England would not beat a top eight side en route to the final but they still had to beat the current series leaders in a fractious, but well-timed final for England. Fiji were to lose 7-5 to South Africa, a converted Smith try from a turned over scrum proving the difference. We had our chances but our 18-game winning run ended there. The last loss was in the Wellington quarter-finals and ultimately the longest run in Fijian sevens history was a huge factor in lifting the series title in London.
England won the final 21-14, a length of the field Phil Burgess score was timed to perfection and gave them that coveted fourth place they were not to give up. At the other end of the standings, it was too little too late for Japan. A great run saw them go to the Plate semi-final, but Portugal’s consistent reaping of points put them too far ahead to be caught and it will be Japan that are replaced by Russia next year as a core team.
So to Glasgow and London. The draw immediately threw up an early confrontation. South Africa losing 24-19 to Gordon’s men meant Fiji would play the series leaders in the quarter-finals. It was a chance for us to leapfrog our great rivals and we took it with an efficient, workmanlike and clinical performance in the wet conditions to win 15-0. USA reached the semi-finals and though they were to lose to Fiji and then England to finish fourth, it was the start of unforgettable fortnight for them.
Again in the final, New Zealand were blighted by injuries but put a game plan together that almost worked. It had not been our best first half of rugby in the final but thankfully we woke up, strung a few possessions together and powered through to take our fourth Cup of the season. My flight to London was booked that evening so I missed the boys lifting the Cup as I dashed to the airport for one final week of the season. It would hinge on one game.
London is my birthplace and my home. My family have swapped the white of England for the white of Fiji and were all proudly supporting the team in the stands. We got the simple things right in the week and went into the first day ready. After a very tough match against a terrific Argentina, we posted two further wins to complete the pool stages of the year. Played 27, won 27. A perfect day one record and another indication this was a new chapter for Fiji. A Fiji side that were consistent.
An upset happened in our crossover pool with South Africa falling to USA. That meant one solitary thing. Fiji would face the Blitzbokke in the quarter-finals. Win and the world title would be ours. Lose and all is lost. I didn’t wrap it up any other way to the team. We threw all our eggs, and anything else we could find, into the basket. I told them it was all about that game and nothing more.
Before the game I had to take them to one side. There were tears in the changing room before running out and they were so emotional I knew I needed to calm them down a little. Some smiles, some deep breaths and some unravelling of frowns and we were ready. We play best with a smile on our faces and as they ran out their grins shone through. We put in a great defensive effort at the start and then scored some ruthless tries to win the game and the World Series.
Back on the mainland – the nation went into hysterics. The two-hour bus journey from the airport to Suva took 10 hours as every village put up roadblocks so they could meet the team and the trophy. The capital’s roads were sealed off as celebrations took hold. Songs were written and babies named after those involved. The craziest sevens mad country on the planet? Too right.
Only Fiji’s second ever series title in 16 years – this group will go down in the folklore of the nation’s game with plenty still to come. I couldn’t have been prouder. South Africa had been a quite marvellous rival all season and with New Zealand refusing to be shaken off it was a season that had it all. The USA went onto to win an historic first title and the following month underlined that with their Olympic qualification, while England grabbed the last automatic spot on behalf of Team GB. Argentina have now qualified too
Without doubt, the biggest days for sevens are to come in 2016. Yet the 2014-15 season was also seminal. The “Olympic effect” brought real change across the board. Better to come? For sure. August 2016 will bring tension and drama we have never seen before. However, this year will be known as the season Fiji roared back. The team that plays like no other played like no other in breath-taking fashion. More off-loads, more line-breaks, more tackles and more tries than any other team. Pure, undiluted joyful rugby. Go Fiji Go!!
An unabridged version of the 2014-15 Sevens Series will be published in the World Rugby Yearbook 2016, which will be on general sale later this month..