The first World Series Hong Kong 7s saw another win for New Zealand, and Australia again runners-up, and two new Olympic qualifiers. But all of the excitement was for once coming from events further down the rankings.
The joy of a first ever World Series semi-final for Great Britain
The main headlines from Hong Kong were that the Ferns were again the Ferns, brushing aside all comers apart from Australia who in the final who at least looked a possible threat before being dismissed 26-17.
In addition, both Australia and the United States ensured their Olympic spots, joining New Zealand (who had wrapped that up in the previous round in Vancouver) and France (as hosts).
New Zealand should wrap up another series title in Toulouse next time around (they will only need to reach the quarter-finals), Australia should also confirm second place, and the USA third.
But that will be almost a side-show in Toulouse because the excitement will be an astonishing three-team battle for the final World Series Olympic place.
A month ago, this all looked sorted. Ireland were haring away, a massive 16 points clear of Fiji and so far ahead of Great Britain that they were not visible in the rear view mirror.
But like Aesop’s fairy-tale made real, Ireland’s sprint to Paris first slowed in Vancouver and this weekend in Hong Kong came to a near walk. Suddenly that 16-point lead over Fiji has melted away to a mere two – or in other words one place in the rankings - while Great Britain have come from apparent no-where to be a mere four points behind. And to make things worse, Fiji have a massive - pretty much unassailable - points difference advantage, so if Ireland (or GB) end level with Fiji, the Pacific islanders will win that Olympic place.
How did we get here?
After Vancouver that 16-point lead had shrunk to just 10 – and Ireland’s first Pool B opponents this weekend were… Fiji!
Stacey Flood’s try put Ireland 7-0 up at halftime, but the second half belonged to Fiji whose three tries gave them a 17-7 win.
Ireland almost made amends with a great performance against Australia in their next game, but their terrific fightback just fell short 19-12. They still made the quarters, but only as a best third and the tough draw that goes with that. Fiji qualified for the quarters in second.
Meanwhile in Pool A Great Britain – a further four points behind Fiji at the start of the weekend – began with a tense 5-0 win over Canada which was enough, along with a win against hosts Hong Kong, to progress to the quarters despite a big loss to the Ferns.
The quarters came at the end of Day 2. Ireland began against Australia, who made no mistakes this time, winning comfortably 24-5. Ireland then had to sit back and hope the other games went to form.
First, Great Britain beat France for the first time ever (in a tournament at least) with another scrap very similar to their opener with Canada, just sneaking it 5-0 and reaching a World Series semi-final for the first time.
Then Fiji came from behind at the death to beat USA, meaning that the Americans had failed to reach a semi-final for the first time this season.
These outcomes also meant that Ireland’s lead in the series would shrink by at least two points.
Onto the final day and the normally routine world of the 5th/8th place semi-finals. Not this weekend. Ireland had to beat France, and as with the game with Fiji lead at halftime, but again had very much the worse of the second period to lose 26-14.
Fortunately for Ireland there were no further miracles in the main semi-finals, Fiji and Great Britain losing to New Zealand and Australia, meaning that they would meet for third.
Before that Ireland played USA for 7th and lost by an agonising single point, 15-14, though in practice the Americans did lead from gun to tape. But it meant that the gap between the hare and the tortoises would close by another two points.
The third place game between Fiji and Great Britain was a classic, as games between these two invariably are. Fiji pulled back a GB halftime lead to go ahead early in the second half, a Jaz Joyce try put GB ahead again, then in the final minute Fiji stole the lead back with Ilisapeci Delaiwau converting her own try to lead 19-17.
There was just enough time for a restart, which GB collected and there then followed three minutes of nail-biting tension until Megan Jones found a way through to win it for Britain.
There now remains a five week gap before the south of France beckons and this page-turner of a story reaches its climax. Will the hare hold on this time? Stay tuned.
Pool A: Canada 0-5 Great Britain; New Zealand 59-0 Hong Kong; Canada 22-5 Hong Kong; New Zealand 43-0 Great Britain; Great Britain 35-0 Hong Kong; New Zealand 46-0 Canada
Pool B: Fiji 17-7 Ireland; Australia 43-5 Brazil; Fiji 36-5 Brazil; Australia 19-12 Ireland; Ireland 34-0 Brazil; Australia 35-5 Fiji
Pool C: France 38-7 Japan; United States 35-7 Spain; France 45-0 Spain; United States 26-17 Japan; Japan 14-10 Spain; United States 12-15 France
9th-12th Place Semi-Finals: Spain 24-5 Hong Kong; Japan 29-0 Brazil
11th Place: Hong Kong 10-21 Brazil
9th Place: Spain 26-17 Japan
Quarter-Finals: Australia 24-5 Ireland; France 0-5 Great Britain; Fiji 19-14 United States; New Zealand 45-14 Canada
5th-8th Place Semi Finals: Ireland 14-26 France; United States 7-14 Canada
Semi-Finals Australia 21-5 Great Britain; New Zealand 31-5 Fiji
7th Place: Ireland 14-15 United States
5th Place: France 22-12 Canada
3rd Place: Fiji 19-22 Great Britain
Final: New Zealand 26-17 Australia