Defending champions Fiji clinched a record 17th Hong Kong Sevens title Sunday after blowing away South Africa to hand new coach Gareth Baber a victory in his former home town.
The Pacific islanders recorded a badly-needed first win on the world series this season as they finally vanquished a post- Olympic hangover, after taking gold in Rio last summer.
Baber has been under huge pressure after taking over mid-season from Ben Ryan, who enjoys legendary status in Fiji after guiding them to their first-ever Olympic medal.
His team triumphed in the city he used to call home when coach of tournament hosts Hong Kong, with whom he agonisingly missed out on securing promotion to the world series last year.
But there was no hint of nerves as he returned to the biggest venue of the sevens circuit. His charges swept away South Africa 22-0 with four unanswered tries, including two spectacular second-half scores from Kalione Nasoko who was named player of the final.
“There’s huge expectation with Fiji — they are the world champions, the Olympic champions for a reason,” Baber said.
“When you look back on your career as a coach or player, there are moments where perhaps things didn’t go so right, and they make perhaps coming back to the scene of the crime and doing it well that bit more special.”
‘Dream to play in Hong Kong’
He added: “I love being here in Hong Kong… I thoroughly developed my coaching here and now I come back and put it out for everybody to see with a great group of people and a great country as well.”
Sevens is Fiji’s national sport and the team enjoy a phenomenal record in Hong Kong, winning five of the last six tournaments.
Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau said: “Every young Fijian grows up dreaming to play one day in Hong Kong.”
He added: “I’m stoked for Gareth. I know he’s been under the thumb, a lot of pressure, people questioning his credentials… it’s special for him to come back to Hong Kong and to get his first title.”
South Africa must wait another year to try and claim their first sevens title in Hong Kong. But the Blitzboks remain top of the standings with 145 points, with Fiji leapfrogging England to claim second place on 122 points with three events still to play.
Coach Neil Powell said he had fielded a young squad after losing several experienced players to injury but admitted his team was beaten “fair and square”.
Hong Kong was the seventh of 10 tournaments in the global series, with Singapore hosting the next leg before it ends in May in Paris and London.
“They (Fiji) will definitely come out guns blazing in Singapore to see if they can close that gap — we need another strong performance in Singapore next weekend,” Powell said.
Australia overcame a talented USA side — who overpowered England in the quarterfinals and pushed South Africa to extra time in the semis — to claim third place.
USA coach Mike Friday admitted he was frustrated with the loss but added: “It’s an unbelievable sevens tournament, unbelievable carnival and celebration of rugby, and the world does come to play here.”