4th Fiji International Sevens: Fiji 22 New Zealand 21
(Atlantis tournament #46)
April 4, 1996
JUNE 17, 2013 (rev. August 30, 2013)
Atlantis in Fiji with US Flag ties and Fijian Sulus
Top, L to R: Tom Brewer, Rich Schurfeld, Thor Bolstad,
Bill Russell, Marty O'Connor, Vince Granger, Emil Signes
Bottom, L to R: Jone Ratu, Ray Green, Steve Hiatt, Al
Caravelli, Jason Fox, Jim Walier
2013: This is the article as I submitted it to Rugby;
an edited version was included in the April 15, 1996
issue. I remember this as a tournament of promise and
disappointment: we led Samoa (then called Western Samoa) 12-0,
only to lose 14-12, but just tied the Solomon Islands. This
may be the toughest place in the world to play sevens.
In 1993 when I was here for the first-ever Fiji International
Sevens, in a tournament with New Zealand, Australia, Canada,
Scotland, the US and others, the 8 quarterfinalists were Fiji,
Samoa, Tonga, and 5 Fijian provinces. This one wasn't that much weaker, as it included the New Zealand Fijians and the Australia
Fijians. Again all 8 quarterfinalists were
from the South Pacific.
Suva, March 15-16, 1996. Fiji, with eight new players, hung
on to barely defeat a less-than-full-strength New Zealand team,
22-21, in an exciting finale to one of the strongest sevens
tournaments in the world.
With fans shouting “Fiji, Fiji, Fiji” and [a smaller number]
“Kiwi, Kiwi, Kiwi” the New Zealanders took the lead after a kick
and chase and fumble by Aisea Tuilevu of Fiji. Owen Scrimgeour,
one of coach Gordon Tietjens’ many Bay of Plenty boys, scored the
try. But the magic man Waisale Serevi quickly got things in
control for Fiji and set up a Lemeki Koroi try. With the score
knotted at 7 just after halftime, Fiji and New Zealand exchanged
long kicks and Serevi started a counter attack to set up another
Setareki Tawake for a try. Koroi and Scrimgeour exchanged tries to
make the score 17-14, but an Aminiasi Naituyaga try gave Fiji an
insurmountable 22-14 lead which 18-year old Caleb Ralph’s last
minute try could only narrow to 22-21.
One of the more interesting things about this game was how the
Fijian referee’s calls seemed to rattle and anger the New
Zealanders. I was on the New Zealanders’ side on this until I saw
the tape, which seemed to indicate the referee was correct on most
of his calls.
Whereas Fiji will take most of its entire new-look squad to Hong
Kong, New Zealand will only take two of its squad -- Waisake
Masirewa and Joe Tauiwi -- rounding its squad out with eight
contracted players not available for any sevens competitions other
than Hong Kong. Prognosis: a huge challenge for Fiji. [note to Ed:
with Dallas Seymour injured during training in Hong Kong, Owen
Scrimgeour was called up to make three members of the squad that
played in Hong Kong.]
South Pacific Sevens Strength
The South Pacific provided all 8 quarterfinalists:
besides Fiji and New Zealand, they were Australia, Tonga, W.
Samoa, Papua New Guinea, the New Zealand Fijians, and the
Papua New Guinea was particularly impressive, giving up only 26
and 27 points to Fiji and New Zealand, respectively, for its only
losses, as they defeated Canada and Japan easily in their path to
The other two South Pacific teams were not far behind: although
they both ended up in the Bowl (Tanoa) round, both the Cook
Islands and Solomon Islands provided their share of surprises,
showing that they’re far superior to the teams that normally end
up in the Bowl in Hong Kong. The Cook Islands defeated eventual
semi-finalist Tonga (ending up in the Bowl because of defeats by
Australia and Hong Kong) and then crushed Canada in the Bowl
Bowl & Plate Championships
The Solomon Islands tied Atlantis in a torrential
rainstorm, and then crushed Taiwan 28-0 in the other Bowl
semifinal. Cook Islands defeated the Solomons for the Bowl
The four Plate teams were Hong Kong, Japan, Uruguay (with two Puma
guest players), and Atlantis. Hong Kong easily defeated Japan,
while Atlantis lost in the last minute to Uruguay 12-5. Uruguay
was unfortunate to be in the Plate as their magnificent effort in
tying a highly-regarded Australian Fijian team was spoiled by the
In the Plate Final, Hong Kong, with a backline of Moape Ravuvu
(Fiji), Isi Tuivai (Tonga), and Vaughan Going (New Zealand),
crushed the South Americans 33-0. Ravuvu was later named
Fiji and a surprisingly strong Papua New Guinea team
came out of Pool 1 to enter the Cup, and Japan knocked off Canada
to put them in the Bowl. It was very surprising, in fact, to see
how badly Canada played. Perhaps the following conversation,
overheard between the Australian and Canadian coaches, is
AUS: How’s your team?
CAN: Well, we don’t have any speed.
AUS: When you say you don’t have any speed, how fast would your
fastest guys run the 100?
CAN: Well, I don’t think we have anyone that could break 12
AUS: Do you realize you’re in Fiji?
Fortunately for Canada, only one or two of the players on this
team will be headed to Hong Kong.
Strange results were the order of the day in Pool 2, where Tonga
tied Australia but lost to a strong Cook Island side. The Cooks,
however, lost to both Australia and Hong Kong and ended up in the
Pool 3 was Atlantis’ Pool, and ended up with Western Samoa and the
New Zealand Fijians headed to the Cup, Atlantis to the Plate, and
the Solomons to the Bowl.
Finally, Pool 4 nearly provided the upset of the tournament as
Uruguay led the Australian Fijians 19-12 with no time left. The
Fijians, however, scored at the hooter to tie the game and advance
on points to the Cup. To no one’s surprise the other Cup team was
Cup round. In the cup quarterfinal, New Zealand knocked off a
surprisingly strong Papua New Guinea, 27-5, Tonga upset Western
Samoa, Australia struggled to defeat the New Zealand Fijians
17-12, Fiji struggled to beat the Australian Fijians 12-5.
The semifinals were not as close, with New Zealand and Fiji easy
winners over Tonga and Australia.
USA Atlantis: Team of the
OK, let’s be up-front here: our record was 0-3-1.
Still, although it sounds perhaps sounds self-serving for me to
write this, our record didn’t reflect at all the way which we
played the game. Whereas I was openly dissatisfied with our play
in Dubai and Punta, the only thing I was dissatisfied with in Fiji
was the scorelines.
Furthermore we were all made to feel very proud at the Banquet
when we were announced as the “Team of the tournament” for
the respect we showed for the traditional Fijian culture (our
dress for the parade, reception, and banquet was white shirt, tie,
sandals and sulu (traditional Fiji skirt), and we made it a point
to take in as many Fijian traditions as possible.
Day before tourney: Vince
Granger in forefront of team in the American flag tie and sulu
We were assembling for a parade through the streets of Suva
|Old Blue (NY)
|Old Blues (CA)
|Old Blue (NY)
|Old Blue (NY)
|Old Blue (NY)
New Zealand Fijians
This was our first game of the tournament, and we
were clearly nervous and made a lot of mistakes. Turnovers, in
fact, were responsible for at least 3 of the NZ Fijians’ tries.
The Atlantis staple penalty play “Nelly” got us briefly into the
lead, as Marty O’Connor slipped through a gap and scored. Our
other try, down 24-7, was also set up by O’Connor and finished by
Rich Schurfeld. Bill Russell converted both tries, and the final
score was 31-14.
The Eagles had defeated the Solomons 19-6 in 1993,
and we felt confident we could repeat that result. But half an
hour before the game, a torrential rain engulfed the entire area
and players could barely see, let alone handle. We made an
impressive entry onto the field, diving and sliding across the
field prior to the kickoff, but the first two minutes belonged to
the Solomon Islands, as they intercepted two stupid passes to take
a 12-0 lead. In conditions that made it ever difficult to score,
we managed to scrape back with two tries -- one an 80 yard run by
Ray Green on his own break, and the other by Jason Fox, also
started by a Green break. Only a missed conversion at the end kept
us from winning this game.
Interestingly, the Solomons, who have improved their play during
the last three years, were equally surprised not to have won the
The third game of our pool round was held on
Saturday, the tournament’s second day, with the weather again
conducive to open play. We knew that to advance to the Plate we
needed tries, and we put together probably the best single
Atlantis game since the Benidorm finals last year.
Atlantis went out to a 12-0 lead in the first half when Thor
Bolstad sold a big dummy and scored between the posts. Russell
converted. The second try was on the “Eagle” penalty play [note of 2013: some Atlantis players will recognize this
simply as a double post play],
which concluded with a long kick from Bill Russell to Steve Hiatt,
who added one last kick and then fell on the ball for the try.
Russell missed the tough angled kick, which turned out to be key.
Unfortunately, W. Samoa got back into the game midway through the
second half when an Atlantis pass spilled on the ground following
poor communication between players, and was kicked forward for a
converted try. With 30 seconds to go, and a Samoa try about 10
meters from our line, another communications error allowed a
Samoan sidestep to go uncovered, and they closed out the game with
a 14-12 victory. Still the enthusiasm of the crowd indicated how
much they had appreciated our efforts and our skills.
The Uruguay team was based on the British Old Boys
team that had beaten Atlantis in Uruguay in January, but with the
addition of two guest Pumas, including forward Roberto Travaglini.
Again, Atlantis went out to a 5-0 lead on the “Eagle” penalty
play, when Tom Brewer broke a tackle, and fed Ray Green who got
the ball to Mary O’Connor for the try. Again, two Atlantis
turnovers were responsible for Uruguay tries. The game ended when
Jason Fox’s pass to Vince Granger at the Uruguay goal line failed
I would have to say this was shared between Atlantis
veteran Marty O’Connor and rookie Ray Green, who with a little
more experience will be an exceptional sevens player.
Note of 2013: thanks to Vince Granger, I am able to post
a bunch of photos of our tour to provide a sense of the moment
On the field moments
We have no still photos of our play, though (2013) if I can track
down some video, I'll see if they're usable. But the following
photos give a sense of the ambience and of the tournament.
Here's the view of the action from the stands. The place was
packed, including a full hillside. Beyond the field in the
right background is the Pacific Ocean.
The action as seen from the covered part of the
stands. Pacific Ocean provides a great background.
Atlantis takes part in the parade on the field
at the national stadium
Left: Part of the between-rounds spectacle ///
Right: Jason, Vince, Bill (R to L) in crowd
Left: Bill & Vince trying to show off their studly selves
(I had forgotten we also had stars & stripes jerseys (see
Right: Bill, more modestly dressed and with a companion,
continues to watch our drying jerseys
Left: Steve, Rich & Vince with Fijian boys
/// Right: Ray and Vince with the master: Waisale
Off the field highlights
There were so many! A few were the great
interaction we had with our liaison, Jone Ratu, a former Fiji
national player, the Eagles’ liaison in 1993, host to me and my
wife last year, and someone that’s become a real friend to me over
the last three years. Jone’s wife Mili also joined us on our last
day in Fiji.
Rich Schurfeld & Jone Ratu horsing around: is Rich
about to attack him?
Jone took us all to his village of Rukurukulevu,
where we all participated in (clearly too much) yaqona [kava]*, and enjoyed the companionship
and wonderful singing of his fellow villagers.
* Note of 2013: I have a couple of
distinct memories related to this evening. We got in our
bus and the entire team dropped to sleep and had to be
awakened at our hotel, about an hour away. I also
remember that approximately 2 weeks later I was in Hong Kong
with the Atlantis women's team on
women's 7s missionary duty, and I ran into one of the
Rukurukulevu guys. He smiled when he recognized me and
simply said "we had a LOT of grog that night, didn't we?" I
smiled back and said "yes, we did."
Jason Fox ran into an old Cleveland buddy “Fiji Joe” [clearly not
a specific enough moniker in Fiji], and Ray Green spent some time
with the family of OMBAC and Eagle speedster Malakai Delai.
Finally, we spent a day on beautiful Mana Island, lazing around,
snorkeling, and playing some touch rugby with players who were
shortly on their way to participate in the Hong Kong 10s
tournament two weeks later.
Playing touch on Mana Island
Fijians running away from Americans: reminiscent of the US
men's touch game on Mana in 1993, when I was US manager
Bill Russell presents signed stars & stripes ball to
Jone at end of tour
Fiji: another great
An enjoyable end to the week