The Serevi moment

Serevi celebrates a try against New Zealand, 2007. Picture:

The year 2000 marked the beginning of a new millennium.

It also left rugby fans with tons of memories from the sevens field.

The rivalry between Fiji and New Zealand, which has sparked since Hong Kong, continued on the International Rugby Board Sevens circuit which took a new dimension in 1999 with ten tournaments introduced to further promote sevens.

The 1999-2000 IRB WRSS was spread over several continents.

NZ and Fiji each won five, with NZ being crowned the overall WRSS winner.

The leading try-scorer on the inaugural series was Fiji’s Vilimoni Delasau, who notched 83 tries.

The 2000 Brisbane Sevens, which was held from February 18-19 at Lang Park (Suncorp Stadium), was the first edition of the Australian Sevens within the World Sevens Series, and was won by Fiji who defeated Australia (24-21) in the Cup final with a sensational try in the final seconds to Waisale Serevi.

When one talks about 7s tournaments in Australia Fiji’s brilliant come from behind win against Australia in the Brisbane 7s final in 2000 comes to mind.

It’s easy to re-collect scenes from Waisale Serevi’s last ditch effort as there were less than 40 seconds remaining and Fiji trailed the hosts. The 1999-2000 WRSS was equally matched as far as finals were concerned.

The first leg was played in Dubai and was won by NZ who defeated Fiji (38-14).

Fiji took revenge in South Africa (Stellenbosch) by outclassing their arch rivals (12-10).

The second leg moved to the South American continent, and it was hosted by Uruguay (Punta del Este) and Argentina (Mar del Plata).

NZ thrashed Fiji in Uruguay (42-19), while Fiji had the upper hand in Argentina winning against the All Blacks (26-14).

The third leg was shared by NZ and Fiji.

The Fijians whipped NZ at the ‘Cake Tin’ (24-14) and broke thousands of hearts.

The final was characterised by the ripping of the late Jonah Lomu’s jersey by Delasau and Bill Satala’s thundering tackle on Christian Cullen that ended his stay prematurely at the Cake Tin.

It was a night to remember as Fiji had stolen the cup from the heart of NZ and from a team laced with stars.

A week later in the heart of Fiji, fans will remember the agonizing loss at the hands of NZ (31-5) at the ANZ Stadium.

Thus, heading into the seventh tournament in Brisbane, both Fiji and NZ had three Cup wins and were runner-up to each other in three finals. Fiji and NZ led the rest of the pack with 108 points.

With the late Master Lagiloa and Peni Veidreyaki at the helm of our 7s side, we were joint leaders and led Samoa (66 points) and Australia (60 points).

The gap was massive. The late Master Lagiloa and Peni Veidreyaki had assembled a power-packed and strong Fijian side which was ready to unleash its weapons to destroy and demolish.

The likes of Jope Tuikabe, Setareki Tawake, Waisale Serevi, Sorokaba (Ba) lad Vilimone Delasau, Fero Lasagavibau, brothers Viliame (Bill) ‘The Stretcher’ and Apolosi Satala, Naitasiri warrior and powerhouse Sailosi Naiteqe, skillful Lautoka lad Taniela Qauqau and the late Temesia Kaumaia were chosen to fly our flag in Brisbane.

I had a conversation with Bill Satala, who scored two tries in the final and he gave credit to Peni Veidreyaki and the late Master Epeli Lagiloa.

The duo did wonders with the team, focusing on fitness, combination, communication and an effective game plan. Bill shared that Peni was flexible and he knew what to do, while Lagiloa dwelled on team bonding.

He added that the team had a mixture of senior and young players. The Fijians started strongly on day one and put in huge scores, thrashing Cook Islands (40-7), Uruguay (49-0) and Argentina (38-14). On day two when the competition
intensified, the flying Fijians did lot let their guards down and our boys lifted their level of play. We belted France (47-7) and South Africa (45-7) in the Cup quarter-final and semis, respectively, while Australia upset NZ (17-0).

The hosts beat USA (40-0), China (57-0) and South Africa (28-0) in pool play and narrowly beat Samoa (12-5) in the Cup quarter-final. The Glen Ella coached Aussies did Fiji a huge favour by suffocating NZ in the semis (17-0) and took solid revenge for the loss in Wellington.

By beating NZ in the semifinals, Australia became only the third nation to reach a WRSS Cup final and for NZ’s defeat at the hands of Australia meant that for the first time on the circuit they did not front Fiji in the final.

Indeed, agonising times for Eric Rush and Sir Gordon Tietjens! Therefore, the stage was set for an exciting and thrilling final as both sides ran onto the playing field- Australia of course having a huge crowd backing.

Fiji and Australia last met in the semi of the Fiji International Sevens and Fiji  won that match (26-12). Gary Wise from NZ was handed the task of officiating the final, while renowned commentator Nigel Starmer Smith was in the commentary booth.

The Aussies had big names in Joe Roff, Andrew Miller, Richard Graham, brothers Jack and Matt Isaac, David Croft, Tim Donnelly, Cameron Pither and Peter Miller, and it took the hosts 24 seconds to get on the score sheet.

Joe Roff, who had won every single kickoff, scored the opening try. Electrifying start from the Aussies! Fiji, however, calmed nerves. We were awarded a penalty and Bill Satala shrugged off a weak tackle from Matt Issac and scored our first try much to the relief and jubilation of Fijian fans at the Suncorp Stadium.

Since that try Australia was under a lot of pressure in the last four minutes and the Aussies were camped down in their own 22. In the build-up to our second try, these were the words of the commentator,

“Serevi cool as you like. Delasau with some room to move – now moves away from the captain. Danger signs here for the Australians. Delasau and Delasau leaves Matt Issac standing in his wake.

“Brilliant footwork- the player is a genius. Vilimone Delasau – that’s what he can do to you. He can break hearts. He has broken heaps of hearts at the Suncorp Stadium. And so right on the stroke of half-time the Australians concede a seven-pointer.”

Fiji led the hosts (14-7), and started the second half on a strong note. Australia was penalised for a late tackle on Delasau.

Fiji used this opportunity and Bill Satala ran away for his second and our third try and this is what the commentator had to say: “Up over half-way and another attack from Fiji. They are starting now and they got numbers out on the far side. Serevi! Serevi is running to the low. Can he get out to the support of Bill Satala?

“No problem. What a start to the second half. Full of confidence the Fijians. Great support play from one side of the field to another.”

Serevi’s attempt hit the upright as Fiji led (19-7).

Fiji’s defence held on with some swarming tackles, but Australia, who were desperate for points, hit back with two quick tries to home town boy Richard Graham and Andrew Miller.

The Fijians panicked and gave away too many penalties. The crowd was emotional as Australia took the lead (21-19) and the match was on the verge of coming to an end. Fijians were praying for a miracle, while the Aussies started celebrating.

Then the moment of individual brilliance from our Little Master and these were the words of the commentator: “Incredible scenes! 40 seconds to go. Calm down the Australians! Will it be the greatest night for Australian 7s for this World 7s Series?

“They cannot afford to go to sleep though. Serevi can he wheel some magic? Serevi got away from one. He has got Delasau with him. Serevi chased by Richard Graham. Serevi! Serevi! The little master has done it for his country yet again!

“Yes, oh my goodness. What about that! Serevi- the heart breaker just as the Australians thought they had done enough to knock over the hot favourites and win their first ever World Series 7s title.”

Heart break for Glen Ella, delight for Waisale Serevi! It’s 24-21. What a brilliant final!” Fiji had snatched the inaugural Brisbane 7s title. Our boys came from behind (21-19) to upset the hosts.

The Aussies played above their abilities and clawed their way back into the game taking the lead before succumbing to Serevi’s thriller. Serevi was unable to convert the try as there were fans everywhere.

They swarmed our genius who was mobbed and worshipped. His individual brilliance won Fiji our first Brisbane 7s title and after the completion of the seventh round (heading to HK) Fiji led the overall points table (128 points) and eight points ahead of NZ.

NZ won in HK. They thrashed Fiji (31-5). However, our boys bounced back in Japan to win (27-22), but we failed at the decisive moment in Paris.

Fiji won the Plate title beating France (45-7), while NZ lifted the Paris 7s title having defeated South Africa (69-10). The All Blacks won the overall title as well. Heartbreak for Fiji as NZ celebrated for they were crowned champs!

  • RAJNESH LINGAM is a regular contributor to this newspaper. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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