30 Jan 2017

Sport: Fiji 7s settle for 2nd in Wellington, Samoa show fight

2:40 pm on 30 January 2017

The "character" of the Fiji sevens team has left a lasting imprint on new coach Gareth Baber.

The Welshman coached the Olympic and World Series champions to a runners-up finish in Wellington at the weekend, in his first tournament in charge.

South Africa’s Ruhan Nel on his way to a try in the Wellington Sevens final against Fiji.

South Africa’s Ruhan Nel on his way to a try in the Wellington Sevens final against Fiji. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Fiji were outclassed 26-5 by South Africa in the Cup final, having also lost to the Blitzboks in pool play.

"We want to see them under the spotlight of pressure and that certainly comes in finals against the likes of South Africa," said Baber.

"We got some things right but we got some things wrong as well and, to me, the biggest positives to come out is the learnings that we will take from that to develop ourselves and develop the structure we want moving forward but in terms of work ethic, attitude, go at the task, I can't fault the players in any shape or form."

Injuries and yellow cards made Fiji's task in the final more difficult but Baber was encouraged by what he saw.

"(I've been impressed with) The character of the team and the way we like to play. I've always watched it from afar and coached against it and played against it at times but getting to the understanding of the way it's constructed," he said.

"It's the things that go on around the squad - not necessarily what we put on in matchplay but how they are as people and the dynamic between the group and what that does when we go on a training field as well.

"(They are) thorough professionals and they love the game of rugby and they love each others company...you win together and you lose together and unfortunately this evening we didn't quite get it but we will take the learnings from it."

Fiji huddle up during the Wellington Sevens.

Fiji huddle up during the Wellington Sevens. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

South Africa will begin this weekend's Sydney Sevens with a 12 point lead atop the World Series standings, while Fiji move up to second place above England.

The Blitzboks coach Neil Powell said discipline and defence laid the platform for their first Wellington title in 15 years, but stressed his players could not afford to get carried away.

"There's still seven tournaments left and I think consistency is going to be key again - it's all about the effort the guys put in and I think the goals for us is always to at least reach the Cup semi final and to have that consistency," he said.

If we can get ourselves there we hopefully can go on and get into a Cup final and hopefully be successful."

PM boost for Samoa

Having been read the riot act by coach Sir Gordon Tietjens after a winless effort on day one, Samoa showed major improvements.

Desperate defence denied the Manu a length of the field try that would have put them in front at the death against Australia before finally registering wins against Papua New Guinea and Russia to end in 13th place - the same spot they now occupy in the overall standings.

Sir Gordon Tietjens said the Wellington Sevens was a well run tournament but the city had been like a 'ghost town'.

Samoa coach Sir Gordon Tietjens. Photo: AFP

Tietjens said the windy conditions made it difficult but we was pleased with the response from his players.

"It was looking after the ball a lot better and obviously from day one it was getting our defence right and we certainly improved 200 percent on that overnight," he said.

"You take out of these last two wins and you obviously learn from your losses. We talked about defence (Sunday) morning. It was great to have the Prime Minister from Samoa come and see the team this morning - obviously indicating that they care and they realise that it's not a quick fix about getting this team up and running again and getting them up to where they would like to be.

"But they certainly looked good at certain times - they were a lot fitter now and that's just a big part of growing this team and trying to create more depth in Samoan rugby.

"For us it's confidence and we got confidence out of the last two games."

Meanwhile Papua New Guinea finished winless for the weekend after 29-7 defeat by Wales and 35-7 defeat by Samoa on day two.

However the Pukpuks will get another chance this weekend in Sydney.

PNG are in Pool C with Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, while Fiji and Samoa are together in Pool B alongside France and Wales.