Wearing a Sri Lanka cricket shirt in Moscow was an easy way to strike up a conversation with a Muscovite for our island nation is well-known and instantly rings a bell for its famous tea. Many Russians are aware of ‘Ceylon’ tea. Indeed the shops sell many brands of tea from Mlesna, and the Hotel [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

High tea and high fun in Moscow ends in double black celebration


Wearing a Sri Lanka cricket shirt in Moscow was an easy way to strike up a conversation with a Muscovite for our island nation is well-known and instantly rings a bell for its famous tea.

Many Russians are aware of ‘Ceylon’ tea. Indeed the shops sell many brands of tea from Mlesna, and the Hotel National, my home for nine days during the Rugby World Cup Sevens, proudly says it serves this best tea in the world.

Increasing numbers of Russian tourists escaping the country’s harsh winters and flying into Katunayake has also raised awareness of Sri Lanka. As such it is a pity that our rugby team wasn’t at the World Cup for they would bound to have received warm support from the fans – the few that turned up – at the Luzhniki Stadium, the venue for the three-day event.

It was double black celebrations at the end with the New Zealand men and women winning their respective World Cups. The All Blacks Sevens hammered England 33-0 in the Cup final while the women defeated Canada 29-12.

A fair number of the Kiwis will turn up at this month’s Carlton Sevens, along with players from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, and perhaps even from England. It will be good to see the World Cup-winners in action among the local teams. Guys like DJ Forbes and Tomasi Cama, the engine of New Zealand’s success, appeared last year and if they turn up again, their presence will be hugely beneficial to local rugby.
Our players must try and glean every little bit of knowledge they can from the overseas stars. In this respect, the Carlton Sevens is an invaluable learning tool. The tips they can get from a player like DJ Forbes will be priceless.

Action during the Fiji vs France encoutner in Moscow.

And one of the best lessons was shown on the last day at the World Cup. Moscow had been in the sweltering grip of a heat wave in the days preceding the tournament, and it was only on the Sunday, the final day, that the skies over the venue of the 1980 Olympics opened up.
A heavy deluge accompanied by a thunderstorm saw the unusual step of play being halted – DJ Forbes later quipped “I thought we were playing a cricket match” – four minutes into the semi-final between Fiji and New Zealand with the Kiwis leading 12-0.
When play resumed an hour later, the conditions underfoot had transformed. It was soggy like a paddy field. It was here that New Zealand showed their class – by adapting its game to the conditions.

Usually sevens is all about keeping possession but when play resumed, the men in black kept kicking deep into Fiji territory and forcing play to revolve inside their opponents’ 22.

They knew ball-handling would be difficult and running the ball out would become a lottery. And so it proved. Fiji struggled to string together any threat and with superb defence from New Zealand, the game ended in a 17-0 win.

It was the same against England. New Zealand ran in three early tries in the first half to lead 21-0. England came out after the break and tried to match New Zealand’s kicking game and the match resembled aerial ping-pong. The Kiwis were happy doing that as they had established a lead. It was up to England to force the pace, and to do that they had to keep the ball in hand but they opted to kick deep and the execution was poor. New Zealand dropped a sweeper back and every time England punted ahead, it was returned back to them.

England coach Ben Ryan later conceded that his team had been outplayed tactically and had made a mistake by kicking possession away.

It goes to show how even in a game of sevens, tactics can change instantaneously. New Zealand, winners of the World Series, was quick to adapt and as a result added the World Cup to end the season on a massive high.

This once again highlights the difference between champions and also-rans. The champion reads the situation in front of him and adapts his game accordingly. The also-rans stick by the book and the game-plan to end up losers.

New Zealand joined Fiji as two-time winners of the World Cup (2001 and 2013). Fiji won in 1997 and 2005 both times in Hong Kong. The only other teams to win are England (the inaugural event in 1993) and Wales (Dubai, 2009).

The World Cup was a bridge too far for Hong Kong who had endured a long season, beginning last September. For a bunch of amateurs, and with a small players-base, Hong Kong did admirably winning the Asian Sevens Series, qualifying for the London Sevens and World Cup.

But the long season took a toll. Argentina, who Hong Kong had beaten at the Hong Kong Sevens, hammered them 47-7. England did likewise in pool competition, 38-7, but Hong Kong came back superbly to defeat Portugal, a core team on the World Series, 17-14. It left Hong Kong in the Bowl competition where thy lost in the quarterfinals to Georgia 31-10.

Japan performed better reaching the Bowl final where they lost to Georgia. The third Asian team, Philippines lost all their matches in pool competition as well as in the Bowl quarterfinals where they were crushed 50-0 by Japan.

In the women’s World Cup, Asian representatives China and Japan ended in the Bowl competition and lost in the semis and quarterfinals respectively.

Moscow proved once again that Asia is far behind the rest of the world. Sevens is a version which gives Asian teams more of a chance but we still have a long way to go before catching up with the likes of even African nations like Kenya who reached the Cup semi-finals.
Sri Lanka must get into the picture at least. Hong Kong holds the proud record of having qualified for all six World Cups. If they can do it, there is no reason why Sri Lanka with a larger player-base cannot emulate. This must be the goal for 2018, the next time the World Cup Sevens is played.

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