x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Jonny can't bridge Gulf

Jonny MacDonald leaves the opening day of the Sevens World Cup almost in tears after botching a moment of glory.

The Arabian Gulf's Jonny MacDonald, left,  and Tonga's Peasipa Moimoi chase the ball during yesterday's game at The Sevens.
The Arabian Gulf's Jonny MacDonald, left, and Tonga's Peasipa Moimoi chase the ball during yesterday's game at The Sevens.

DUBAI // Jonny MacDonald, an Abu Dhabi-born English playmaker of a team made up of expatriates from across the region, left the opening day Sevens World Cup almost in tears yesterday after realising he had botched up a potential moment of glory. With the score still blank in an opening Group A confrontation with Tonga at The Sevens, MacDonald burst through a gap and appeared to have the momentum to cross the opposing line before throwing out the fanciest of passes which his bemused teammates failed to anticipate.

Instead of leading 5-0 with a possible conversion to follow, the Gulf's motley crew found themselves behind moments later to a breakaway try by Mateo Malupo, who then cruelly added another hammer blow. A third try midway through the second half by Vaea T Poteki ensured that there would be no fairy tale start at this level for the Gulf team coached by Mike Lunjevich, who this morning seeks to plot an unlikely way past his native New Zealanders before turning his attention to a concluding group fixture against Italy. The final score was 19-0 in favour of Tonga.

The first match of today's much busier programme featuring the redoubtable New Zealand who have appeared in the last two finals of this tournament - beating Australia in 2001 and losing to Fiji four years ago - will take place incongruously on Pitch Two. Pride of place in the main stadium at the 11am opening time goes to the women of Australia and China as they make history by appearing alongside the men for the first time.

That is one of eight fixtures today given prime billing ahead of men's clashes - a policy that is bound to irritate the traditional hardcore followers of these events but one which was defended by the organising committee. Mike Miller, the chief executive of the IRB Sevens, said that it will provide the paying supporters with something extra and expects his fellow male rugby enthusiasts to be "pleasantly surprised" by what they what they see over the next two days. Using two pitches simultaneously led to confusion over who claimed the distinction of scoring the first try of the competition.

The commentator in the principal arena announced that Abess Kerfani, of Tunisia, had plunged over for the opening try of the tournament. Initial touchdown had in fact come 10 minutes earlier at the hands of Welshman Aled Brew, who needed only 57 seconds on Pitch Two to set his team on the way to a resounding 31-5 victory over Zimbabwe. wjohnson@thenational.ae