Having survived yesterday’s journey on the Marrakesh Express where passengers were literally hanging out of the doors, we awoke in a cloudy and rainy Rabat looking forward to Day One of the Morocco 7s which would see the two finalists qualify for the 2013 Sevens World Cup in Moscow.
Our first challenge was to find the ground but we were with Martin Crawford from Nigeria Rugby who had the details so we were in safe hands. We hailed a taxi and asked to go to the Stadium de FUS in Rabat which took twenty minutes or so and pretty impressive it was too. Unfortunately it was an astroturf pitch and was being used for football – wrong stadium! Calls to the team managers went unanswered so we decided to go to the Institut de Sport where the teams were being billeted on the basis that they couldn’t be playing far from there.
The Institut was North of the river in the town of Sale and it was a challenge to find a taxi-driver willing to take us there, but eventually we found one although the absence of grip on his tyres made the journey a challenging one. At the Institut we asked some guards who told us that the tournament was being played south of the river back in Rabat so over the bridge we went again and we arrived at the correct stadium about ten minutes before Nigeria’s first game due to kick-off at 11:34,
But as nothing runs to plan in Africa we found that Nigeria were already in the second half of their game against Madagascar, brought forward because the Cameroon Ladies team were a no-show. Nigeria were 7-5 up at that stage but Madagascar scored two quick tries and although Nigeria pulled one back it wasn’t enough to prevent a 12-15 loss.
To progress to the semi-finals and stay in with a chance of World Cup qualification, Nigeria would need to win both remaining games with the first one being against the hosts, Morocco. The rain had stopped temporarily and Nigeria enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and perhaps should have had more than a 7-0 half-time lead, but the players outmuscled the Moroccans to the delight of Hilary, Martin and me sitting in the stands, but the home crowd around us were less than overjoyed, but they did have something to celebrate when Morocco scored a consolation try. Nigeria won 19-7 but they still had to beat Zambia to go through as pool runners-up.
The women’s competition was being played at the same time and after a recent IRB rule change allowing Muslim women players to wear headscarves and leggings it was interesting to watch the Tunisia v Morocco game where several players are elected to cover their heads. In fact, the outstanding woman player was the Tunisian No 6 who wore the covering and I wonder if she would have decided not to play without the change in legislation. However, the best women’s team looked to be the Uganda Lady Cranes and I predict that they run out as tournament winners tomorrow although they may be run close by Tunisia and Kenya.
The rain had been falling steadily but once again it stopped before Nigeria took the field against Zambia with both teams needing a win to progress. Nigeria got off to the worst possible start with a missed tackle following the kick-off gifting Zambia an unconverted try in the first minute. But Nigeria were patient and retained possession well and inevitably the score came but the conversion was missed to level the scores at 5-5 at half time.
The second half saw Nigeria continue with much of the same, Rob Worrincy in particular causing all sorts of problem for the Zambians with his dancing feet. Two more tries saw Nigeria win 17-5 and tomorrow morning they will face Zimbabwe in the semi-final. the winners guaranteed a place in the Sevens World Cup Finals. The signal isn’t very good at the ground but I will do my best to post updates on Twitter and Facebook.
Nigeria are only fourteen minutes from Moscow!
Click for pictures from the tournament