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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Dubai Rugby Sevens: Jerry Tuwai enjoys his first day of captaincy as Fiji advance

South Africa start title defence in irresistible form, as England and New Zealand also claim three wins on Day 1 at The Sevens

Jerry Tuwai of Fiji in action against Australia. Tom Dulat/Getty Images
Jerry Tuwai of Fiji in action against Australia. Tom Dulat/Getty Images

Jerry Tuwai had promised to take extra responsibility now the honour of the Fiji captaincy has been handed on to him. On his first day in office, he did exactly that.

At the end of Day 1 of the Dubai Rugby Sevens, the diminutive playmaker dragged his side through a tense final pool match against Australia to give them a third win.

It meant Fiji topped the group, and theoretically now have a more favourable draw for their quarter final. They will play Scotland, who were comprehensively beaten by England in the final match of the evening.

The way he did so was in many ways typical of how he has always been since he broke into the Fiji side, full of verve and attacking brio. The timing, though, spoke volumes of the duty he feels to his new role.

Deep in the second phase, the Fijians were trailing Australia, even though he had already scored one try against them and made another, when he started a move from his own tryline that turned the tie in their favour.

“That’s just the way he is, and that’s why he is captain,” said Gareth Baber, the Fiji coach who had opted to make Tuwai the new leader of the Olympic gold medalists.

“Sometimes you are looking through your fingers at what the boys do. Within games today he made errors he wouldn’t normally make, with timings and offloads and little things – but then he does something like that.

“That is what lifts everybody around him. He is growing as an individual. These boys are very much on a journey, all of them are. I went through it as a player myself, and you never quite know where it is going to go.

“They play beautiful rugby. That [the comeback against Australia] wasn’t through grunt or grind, it was through some class skill, and work ethic.”

Tuwai was beaten to the sevens player of the year award by United States’ wing Perry Baker when the prizes were given out by World Rugby last weekend.

Despite being initially listed in the US squad, and being at the venue, Baker was absent on Day 1 of the Sevens, and his side struggled without him.

“Perry has done some extraordinary stuff last year and deserves what he got, but I’m sure Jerry was close,” Baber said.

“What Jerry does is the special things that people love to see. The poetry in it all is because he is a diminutive man. He is a small, humble individual, and people love to see that David and Goliath thing.

“Invariably it is the David that comes out on the success side. It is lovely to see, and I am delighted to have him as captain.”

Defending Dubai and World Series champions South Africa were also irresistible on the opening day of their title defence, taking wins off Uganda, Kenya and Canada. They will face Samoa in the first quarter final on Saturday.

New Zealand will play Kenya, after coming through three close pool matches against the US, Samoa and Argentina.

“It is good to get through with three wins, and there is plenty to improve on,” Scott Curry, New Zealand’s co-captain, said.

“I think as a team we are only operating at 60 per cent, so it is promising. In the first two games we were down at halftime, so we had to work really hard to beat Samoa and Argentina, and USA really pushed us. We will take a lot out of that.”

Dan Norton, the World Series’ all-time leading try-scorer, scored four in one match in the final fixture of the evening, as England’s eased past Scotland. England will face Australia in the last quarter final.

Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens

Quarter finals

11am, South Africa v Samoa

11.22am, Fiji v Scotland

11.44am, New Zealand v Kenya

12.06pm, England v Australia