Commonwealth Games: Fijians leave opponents without a prayer

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The Independent Online
FIJI'S world sevens champions, committed Christians to a man, set out in pursuit of the inaugural Commonwealth rugby title here yesterday bearing a biblical reference on their shirts: "I can do all things that God has strengthened me to." - Phil. 4:13. Their opponents, Wales and Swaziland, didn't have a prayer.

By the end of the day, however, six hours of rugby from 18 sides had merely succeeded in seeding today's activities. Hugely meaningful it was not, as stellar talents such as Jonah Lomu and David Campese strolled an afternoon of muggy heat and humidity. But the spectacle was hugely enjoyed by a crowd of around 5,000 which filled this neat little Kelana Jaya stadium with boisterous noise.

Never more so than when the home side put on an improbable display of defiance to half the impetus of a New Zealand side which had already disposed of Sri Lanka by the highest score of the day, 80-0.

The seven men in yellow shirts, all built on a smaller scale than their opponents, produced tackling a good deal more tigerish than the present Malaysia economy to hold a side which included not just Lomu but other Test players such as Eric Rush, Christian Cullen and Joeli Videri at bay for more than two minutes - one of the longest scoreless periods of the day.

By the time the 14 minutes were up, New Zealand were 53-0 winners. But the Malaysians richly deserved the standing ovation they received. When the curiously named - and diminutively formed - Shah of Iran grows old he will tell his grandchildren about the time he stopped the great Jonah Lomu 10 yards short of the line. How? God only knows.

The All Blacks, in need of some serious morale-boosting after their recent Tri-Nations defeat, began their afternoon by running in 12 tries against a pale-blue shirted Sri Lankan side who looked like Manchester City on a particularly bad day.

Lomu's men appear the most likely to trouble the Fijians although Australia, with a side of emerging talent, and South Africa also look like serious contenders.

Fiji's Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, guest of honour, witnessed his team's 54-7 defeat of Wales and would have felt safe enough in leaving before their second match, which they won 71-0.

The Fijians are taking this tournament extremely seriously, having spent two months in a training camp before coming out here. Regular observers of the side believe they are fitter now than when they won the World Sevens Cup in March. "The team has a duty to take back gold," said Fiji's inspirational figure Waisale Serevi.

Meanwhile, Chris Sheasby, the only full international in the England side, is seeking to steer his colleagues towards emulating the achievement of winning the inaugural World Sevens Cup in 1993.

Sheasby played in that victorious team alongside the man managing England here, Andrew Harriman, whose urbane manner is all one would expect of a Cambridge graduate who is the son of a Nigerian chief. The man known as "Prince" - because he is - played down his team's chances beforehand, describing them as "a scratch side".

They performed creditably enough, however, earning a 17-10 win over Tonga in a ruggedly contested game before finishing the stronger side against Kenya to run out 28-0 winners. Sheasby, drawing on his 13 years of top- class experience, provided the two tries which finished off the Kenyan challenge, and the inventive running of Jamie Williams, of Harlequins, gives them hope of even better things to come in their games today.