Manu Samoa Sevens coach, Damian McGrath, has dedicated his team’s breathtaking comeback win in Paris, France, yesterday morning to the people of Samoa.
“This is all for our supporters in Samoa who have stood by us and believed in us,” an elated McGrath said following a stunning second-half comeback which saw Samoa conquer World Series leaders Fiji, 29-26, in the final.
“It was awesome, absolutely awesome,” said the coach. “When we started at the end of August, never ever in my wildest dreams that I thought we’d get here today but this is fantastic. “We had a plan, we had to get fit as we play. The plan was to come strong for the reperchage and I’m pleased we’ve been able to get started on it.”
Samoa was down 21−0 then 26−7 at halftime, but found the confidence to stop the world series leader from scoring and turn the tables. After Fiji sent in veterans Samisoni Viriviri and Amenoni Nasilasila to start the second half, Samoa's Tila Mealoi suddenly touched down twice in three minutes, but couldn't convert them. Samoa was nine behind with four minutes to go.
Then Siaosi Asofolau charged over for a converted try to cut the gap to two and, in the dying seconds, captain Falemiga Selesele scored the winning try. Belgium Tuatagaloa also scored for Samoa. "At halftime you'd think we were dead and buried,” McGrath said. "The resolve and the self belief was all here … If we got the momentum, we had a chance and when we saw Fiji flagging, we went for the jugular."
Asked what message was given to the players at halftime, McGrath said it was all about self belief. “We wanted to score first. I spoke to them about self belief. It got us past South Africa and it got us over Argentina as well.” One of the most impressive aspects about yesterday’s victories was Samoa’s defense, with Belgium Tuatagaloa making a game saving tackle that denied Fiji the opportunity to snatch the win at the death. “Defense has been an issue for us but when we needed it this weekend, we came right.”
Samoa were beaten 42-5 by Fiji in the group stage, but reached the final after stunning South Africa 21-10 in the quarter-finals and scraping past Argentina 14-12 in the semis.
Belgium Tuatagaloa said the victory in Paris was a proud moment for everyone.
“We believe in our team and we trust in our individual skills as well,” he said.
“Making the final was a goal, not just for our country but us as a team. We’ve worked really hard and we’ve had some near misses, today we got it together and now we want to continue on with this form.” Outstanding captain, Falemiga Selesele was named the Player of the Tournament.
Despite the defeat, Fiji remain 14 points clear of South Africa at the top of the overall standings ahead of the final round in London next weekend.
Hosts France marked the return of the Paris Sevens after a 10-year absence by defeating Argentina 26-17 in the third-place playoff and are 10th in the overall standings.
South Africa defeated Australia 17-7 to win the second-tier Plate title.
Scotland clinched the Bowl title for the second-consecutive series after beating England 28-10, while Portugal beat Wales 24-19 to win the Shield. Rugby Sevens makes its Olympic debut at the August 5-21 Games in Rio de Janeiro.