Hong Kong became the first to host two Rugby World Cup Sevens when, in March 2005, defending champions New Zealand and 23 other teams converged on the spiritual home of sevens for the fourth edition.
For the second time the eight Cup quarter-finalists from the previous tournament four years earlier in Argentina – New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Argentina, Canada, England, South Africa and Samoa – qualified automatically along with the host nation.
The other 15 nations came through the qualifying process with two newcomers to the RWC Sevens stage making it through to Hong Kong in Uruguay and Tunisia, while Italy secured a first appearance since the inaugural event in 1993.
SCOTS BACK ON THE SCENE
Scotland, the inventors of the sevens game, returned after missing the 2001 event, and were joined by other regional qualifiers Ireland, the USA, Korea, Tonga, France, Georgia, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Portugal, Kenya and Russia.
The 24 nations were divided into four pools of six with the top two in each progressing to the Melrose Cup quarter-finals, the next two to the Plate competition and the bottom two into the Bowl.
New Zealand and Fiji were the only two of the Cup quarter-finalists to progress with unbeaten records, although the defending champions had tries from Josh Blackie and Orene Ai’i to thank for sparing their blushes on day one with a 19-12 comeback victory over Tonga in Pool A.
They were joined in the quarter-finals by Pool A runners-up Scotland and Australia, who had both been unbeaten until losing the top of the table deciders with New Zealand and 1997 champions Fiji by convincing margins, 48-0 and 31-5 respectively.
The two other pools went right down to the wire to determine the remaining Cup quarter-finalists with three teams in contention going into the final round of matches after 1993 champions England and South Africa had suffered shock losses on day one.
Tunisia had the honour of causing the first upset with a 19-12 defeat of South Africa on the occasion of their first ever RWC Sevens match, captain Mohamed Ali Naouali’s late try sealing the unexpected Pool D victory.
France then secured a deserved victory over England in their last match on day one, Jerome Naves scoring two tries, including a late breakaway effort to put the 28-17 result beyond doubt in Pool B.
A missed conversion on day two cost saw France lose 14-12 to Samoa, meaning the islanders could still qualify for the quarter-finals with victory over England. That match was equally tight, Simon Amor’s try sealing a 12-7 win for England to leave all three sides on 13 points after five matches and Samoa the unlucky ones to miss out on point differential.
Tunisia’s 22-12 loss to Kenya meanwhile, left them praying for an Argentina victory over South Africa if they were to reach the Cup quarter-finals. For South Africa it was simply win or the Plate competition and thanks to Jaco Pretorius’ try in the second half they triumphed 12-5 to finish top ahead of the Pumas with Tunisia consigned to the Plate.
Two of the quarter-finals produced convincing wins, New Zealand scoring five unanswered tries to beat France 33-7 while England ran out 36-0 winners over Scotland. Fiji had to dig deep to overcome Argentina 22-14, but it was the Australia-South Africa encounter that proved a nail-biting affair with two second-half tries snatching a narrow 15-14 victory for Australia.
That win set up a repeat of the 2001 final with New Zealand and, while the score was much closer than 31-12 then, Australia still ended up on the losing side with Amasio Valence and Blackie among the try scorers in the 24-20 victory for Gordon Tietjens’ side.
But if that semi-final seemed tight, the other needed sudden-death extra-time to determine which of the past champions would meet New Zealand in the title showdown, Fiji and England having been locked at 19-19 when the whistle blew.
With 40,000 people on the edge of their seats waiting to see who would prosper it was left for who else, but Sevens maestro Waisale Serevi – the leading point scorer in RWC Sevens history – to step forward to score with the winning try to break the deadlock and end England’s hopes of becoming the first to hold both the Webb Ellis and Melrose Cups at the same time.
The final between two old rivals proved an end to end affair, one Fiji started the better as they established a 17-7 lead at half-time with Serevi once more among the try scorers. Their attacking rugby meant this increased to 29-17 before New Zealand added a touch of respectability to the final score with two late tries.
Serevi therefore held aloft the Melrose Cup in the same stadium as he had eight years earlier, Fiji becoming the first nation to win RWC Sevens twice and guaranteeing a welcome home to remember in the sevens mad country.
There was further success for the Pacific islands with Samoa bouncing back to finally break a spirited Portuguese resistance with three second-half tries to win the Plate final 29-7.
Italy also left Hong Kong on a winning note, rewarded for having improved as the tournament progressed after Benjamin de Jager’s second-half try was crucially converted to claim the Bowl with a 7-5 defeat of Canada.
What the winners said …
Waisale Serevi (Fiji): “Hong Kong is my home away from home, it’s where I started rugby and on the plane to Hong Kong I saw a vision: my little boy holding the Melrose Cup. And I had told them to stay at home and watch on TV, but then I rang and said ‘you have to come - I saw something on the plane, Junior holding the World Cup. It won’t happen if you don’t come’. So they came.
“In the semi-finals we played England with Gollings and it went to sudden death and I managed to score the winner in the corner to get us to the final, against New Zealand.
“Before we went out I was talking to the boys in the tunnel – a lot of us senior players – and said that this was a great opportunity for us to do something for Fiji, that this was maybe the last time that we would be playing together and that we didn’t want to let it slip away. I said, ‘Whatever you’ve got in the tank, give it all. Just give it all.
“We started off well and then we kept applying pressure, and we won the final. A really good final because the boys knew it was out last match together. When we won I jumped on the fence, picked up Junior and he lifted up the Melrose Cup.
“The World Cup is special to me, and to win two in Hong Kong was a bonus.”