x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

England show their true colours to see off Samoa

The country's first Dubai Sevens triumph since 2005 and the orange strip grows on Rodwell after Ben Ryan's charges recover to win in dramatic fashion.

Dan Norton, the England player, attempts to escape a tackle during last night’s win over Samoa.
Dan Norton, the England player, attempts to escape a tackle during last night’s win over Samoa.

DUBAI // For the first time in five years, a rendition of Swing Low by thousands of English expatriates drowned out DJ Otzi and inspired England to the Dubai Rugby Sevens title last night.

The supporters did well to get themselves heard over Hey Baby, the German pop hit which is seemingly on a permanent loop at The Sevens, and they were lucky not to get static feedback off England's obscenely loud change of kit.

The orange away outfit became the team's lucky charm after their do-or-die victory over Fiji in the final pool match of the opening night.

After beating Australia in the last eight wearing the traditional white, they reverted to the orange for both their rousing semi-final win over New Zealand, and the final against Samoa.

"I think this colour suits me," said James Rodwell, the England forward who was voted the player of the tournament.

He said that Ben Ryan, the England coach, "seems to like it".

Added Rodwell: "He puts all the other gingers in orange and he gets to wear normal clothes. We had worn it to get to the final, so we thought: 'Why change it?'

"When we started winning we began playing how we wanted to play. We kept our patience."

Ryan had ordered his players to wear the garish garb after they made an awful start to the competition, losing to the minnows Portugal. "We are terrifically proud to wear white, but for whatever reason it suited the position we were in," he said. "We will go back to wearing our traditional colours from now on. If you had seen Nike's alternative option, you would have been grateful. It was lime green. It should be orange all the way in my opinion. It was a real mood changer for us."

England's first victory in Dubai since they won back-to-back crowns in 2004 and 2005 was immediate reward for the greater investment their Rugby Football Union (RFU) have made in rugby's abbreviated format.

They arrived in Dubai with seven centrally contracted sevens players for the first time.

Financiers from senior management at the RFU were here observing Ryan and his charges this weekend, and they would have been impressed by the manner they carried off the title.

Ollie Lindsay-Hague, their outstanding scrum-half, scored two tries and Dan Norton, Simon Hunt and Mat Turner one each as England beat Samoa, the outgoing HSBC World Series champions 29-21.

"Hopefully [the investment by the RFU] will stir the England sevens beast to be a powerful weapon for English rugby," Ryan said.

"We have never really invested in it seriously. This is a new chapter and it is a pretty exciting time for all of us."

The Samoans had done well to make it that far, given that they lost their captain and kicker, Lolo Lui, to a knee ligament injury in the first game of the tournament.

"Unfortunately, we gave away possession and England put it to good use," Stephen Betham, the Samoa coach, said. "They wanted to win more than us."

New Zealand sacrificed their Emirates International Trophy when they lost 19-14 to England in a tense semi-final.

"They had 50,000 people behind them and they had a little bit more experience," DJ Forbes, the New Zealand captain, said.

"We had a chance to win it, but we lacked a little bit of composure. The only way we can learn it is to go through it." New Zealand have started the series with several new players in their squad, and their decorated coach, Gordon Tietjens, liked what he saw.

"We have made some adjustments, but I am pretty proud of the way my players have played," he said.

South Africa restored some lost pride by avenging their opening-night loss to Australia in the final of the Plate. They won 19-12 thanks to a virtuoso display by their playmaker, Cecil Afrika, who scored a hat-trick of tries.

pradley@thenational.ae

Top players of Dubai  Sevens
Many players graced this year’s Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament, but this septet stood out.

Prop: Seremaia Burotu (Fiji) – Built like a fridge. Moves like a Ferrari. When the Fijians wavered in their quarter-final against South Africa, Burotu stepped up to settle them.

Hooker: Lote Raikabula (New Zealand) – One of the pillars of Gordon Tietjens’ New Zealand team, the big Fijian was at his tireless best again at The Sevens.

Prop: Rory Binder (Arabian Gulf) – Did not deserve to go winless. Living in Bahrain, the South African is unlikely to get another chance like this, and he played like it was his last game.

Scrum-half: Ollie Lindsay-Hague (England) – The twinkle-toed Harlequins winger played in the International Invitational 12 months ago. He is a star in the making for England.

Fly-half: Cecil Afrika ?(South Africa) – The Springboks have struggled to reach their previous heights, but Afrika remains one of the most watchable players in this format of the game.

Centre: Mikaele Pesamino (Samoa) – This may be the last time he graces the Dubai Sevens following his move to the English Premiership. If so, he signed off in style.

Wing: John Grant ?(Australia) – Tall and strong, he looks out of place on the wing. Then he stretches his legs and you see the reasoning. The stand-out gas man in the tournament.