All Blacks and Fiji survive scares on opening day of HSBC Rugby Singapore Sevens Series
Favourites New Zealand and Fiji come through crucial games
Perhaps it was frustration, or maybe he just wanted to get his players quickly away to rest and recuperate, but New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens directed his players away from reporters in the mixed zone after their crucial win over the USA yesterday at the National Stadium.
The All Blacks had to win the game to ensure they did not become the first New Zealand team in history to drop into the Bowl competition of the HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens series, and they did, albeit in a nervy contest where they emerged with a 19-12 victory.
The All Blacks, one of the tournament favourites, advanced to the Cup quarter-finals and will face a blockbuster clash with powerful South Africa today.
Speaking after his side's final group game win over Kenya, South African winger Seabelo Senatla said his team will be ready.
"Any opponent is a good one; I think we look at ourselves more and we know that if we can keep our consistency, any team can come at us," he told The New Paper.
"There is no easy encounter these days; as you saw, there was a lot of disappointment among the so-called big teams.
"It's really tough now because we're all on an equal scale, so the team that want it more are going to take it."
Indeed, the finalists in last weekend's Hong Kong leg who came here as favourites, Fiji and New Zealand, had to scrape through their respective pools after suffering early scares.
With both teams suffering defeats in their group openers, a major upset was on the cards, but the two rugby powerhouses recovered to win their remaining pool games and progress.
The All Blacks, lying five points behind first-placed Fiji in the overall standings, started their campaign in Pool B in dismal fashion, thumped 24-0 by eventual group winners France.
Even after defeating Canada 24-17, New Zealand had to beat the US.
After the All Blacks raced to a 19-0 lead at half time, tries by Maka Unufe and Zack Test, and a conversion by captain Madison Hughes, brought the Americans to within seven points of a draw with a minute left to play.
But New Zealand held on to book a date with Pool C winners South Africa.
Fiji's campaign was also in danger of ending in disaster after they lost 24-18 to fellow Islanders Samoa in their Pool A opener.
However, the world No. 1 side regrouped to whip Portugal 38-0, before defeating England 26-12 in their final group game, to earn a clash against Pool D runners-up Australia.
With Fiji, Samoa and England all ending level on points and an equal head-to-head record, the Islanders topped the pool courtesy of a favourable points difference, with Samoa finishing second and England dropping to the Bowl fight.
Reflecting on the Samoa loss, Fiji coach Ben Ryan said: "Samoa beat us fair and square in that first game, and now every game is a cup final.
"The World Series is very competitive, so you're not going to go through the season unbeaten."
The Englishman said his charges used the high stakes in the England game as motivation to pull them over the finish line.
"I put the pressure on them by saying, 'our season's over if we lose this game, don't hide away from it'," he revealed.
"I'm enjoying these matches where the pressure's coming on because we're going to have tons of pressure in Rio (during the Olympics)."
- Bowl quarter-finals:
- England v Wales (10.30am)
- Scotland v Canada (10.52am)
- Japan v Portugal (11.14am)
- United States v Russia (11.36am)
- Fiji v Australia (11:58am)
- South Africa v New Zealand (12:20pm)
- Argentina v Samoa (12:42pm)
- France v Kenya (1.04pm)
The second day of the HSBC Singapore Sevens kicks off at 10.30am with the Bowl quarter-finals. The full fixtures can be found at http://www.singapore7s.sg/ruck/fixtures/. Limited category One S$150 tickets are still available at the National Stadium box office.