The New Zealand men had an incredible opening day at the sevens – bad, tragic, concerning and ultimately satisfying.
In one of the most stunning upsets imaginable, Japan scored their first ever sevens win over New Zealand, holding on to win 14-12. It was a result that brought back memories of Japan’s stunning defeat of South Africa in the opening round of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Japan trailed 14-12 with just two minutes remaining, but Kameli Soejma crossed out wide and Ktsuyuki Sakai kicked the critical conversion.
The day got worse for New Zealand with news that two players, Sonny Bill Williams and Joe Webber had been ruled out of the tournament because of injury. Williams injured an Achilles and is expected to be out of football for up to nine months and Webber damaged his shoulder.
The result left the New Zealanders stunned and captain Scott Curry was brutal in his assessment.
“We played terribly,” he said. “It’s hard to scored when you don’t have a lot of ball.
Japan were really good. They put us under pressure early and when you defend for so long it’s pretty hard to come back from.”
New Zealand rugby fans were suddenly very concerned. Their team was to meet Kenya later in the day and the Kenyans have had good results against New Zealand this year. Another loss for New Zealand and… well, no-one wanted to consider that possibility.
In the event New Zealand got their tournament back on track with a convincing 28-5 victory. Kenya scored first, which jarred a few nerves, but an Akira Ioane try and a penalty try just before halftime put New Zealand ahead 14-5 at the turnaround.
There was more good play in the second spell with accurate kicking by Augustine Pulu, who also scored a try. Lewis Ormond added another on the final hooter.
New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens was a lot happier with the afternoon effort.
“There's a lot of character in this team and they would have gained a lot of confidence from that game,” he said.
“It’s devastating for Sonny and for Joe Webber. Both players worked their butts off to get here and were very influential players. But it wasn't to be.”
Tietjens said the team had to refocus and was pleased with how his players bounced back and the character the showed.
New Zealand meets unbeaten Great Britain tomorrow.
Sonny Bill Williams has been replaced in the sevens team by Sione Malia. Only one player can be replaced during the tournament so Webber remains with the team.Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games Scott Curry Sonny Bill Williams Joe Webber Akira Ioane Augustine Pulu Lewis Ormond Gordon Tietjens Rugby - Sevens