Australian rugby team pay fitting tribute to Phil Hughes in Dubai
DUBAI // Australia’s rugby players put out their cricket bats for Phil Hughes at the Dubai Sevens yesterday, and produced performances to make their nation proud.
When their national women’s side lined up for the national anthems ahead of their world series final against New Zealand, they had a bat with them.
That echoed the tributes to the late cricketer, which have spread the globe on social media.
They subsequently fell to a final-play defeat, but their male colleagues maintained their own hopes of a first Dubai title with three rousing wins in pool play.
They signed off the opening day of the world series competition by beating England in front of a pulsating crowd of more than 44,000 at The Sevens.
Pama Fou, a former volleyball player, and the New Zealand-born Allan Fa’alava’au scored the tries in Australia’s 12-5 win.
They also had a cricket bat with them – the one they commandeered from the women at the start of the UAE tour.
Geraint John, the coach, said his side discussed how best to pay their respects to Hughes, the Australia player who died last month after being hit in the head by a cricket ball.
“We talked about it, and the cricket bat was out there as were the black armbands,” said the Welshman, who took charge of Australia five months ago.
“We decided as a sevens programme that we would give the respect as not only a lot of Australians have done, but sportspeople around the world have done.
“We thought that it was our duty, since this was the first time we had been able to perform since the death and it was a mark of respect to a great sportsman.”
England will have to pick up the pieces of a bruising opening day ahead of their daunting quarter-final meeting with New Zealand. Dan Bibby suffered a tournament-ending shoulder injury against Australia.
James Rodwell, the player of the tournament here in 2010, was watching from the sidelines on crutches.
“Losing two very experienced players would hit any team, but I am very pleased with how we are responding two those challenges,” said Simon Amor, England’s coach.
“We will just have to go with the 10 players we have got, and we have some good talent in this squad and we will have to deliver against a very, very good New Zealand team.”
A New Zealand team who are still smarting from defeat against the same opposition at the same stage of the tournament on the Gold Coast in the opening round of the series.
The All Blacks, who have won this title more often than any other side, were in stunning form.
They scored 120 unanswered points in pool matches against Japan, Scotland and Samoa.
Gordon Tietjens, the multiple-world series winning coach, said it will count for nothing ahead of the quarter-final against England, though.
“There is always a bit of niggle there,” Tietjens said of New Zealand-England encounters.
“We did a similar thing in the Gold Coast, won every game by over 30, then in the quarter-finals, we lost to England and that was the end of our tournament.
“We are going to keep our feet on the ground, and if we can play with the same commitment, accuracy and ruthlessness around the contact area, we should do pretty well.”
Tim Mikkelson, New Zealand’s outstanding player on the opening day, said they have a score to settle with England.
“They taught us a lesson in the last tournament and they get a lot of crowd support here in Dubai,” Mikkelson said. “They have a lot of fast players in their back line and some big boys up front, so it is going to be very tough.”
Fiji, the defending champions, face Wales in the last eight. Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of the Pacific island nation, is in Dubai and presented the playing jerseys to the team on the eve of the tournament.
The Flying Fijians were not at their scintillating best during pool play, and coach Ben Ryan said their No 1 fan – Bainimarama – would probably have some advice to impart.
“I am sure he will be telling me about some of the missed tackles and a couple of the loose passes,” Ryan said of the premier, who he knows simply as “Frank”.
“He is a fervent rugby fan. He plays touch rugby every week and it was great to see him handing out the shirts. The boys were pretty emotional and it means a lot to the team.”
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Published: December 6, 2014 04:00 AM