THE Vanuatu Men’s Rugby Sevens team had to wait until the final hit-out of the day to achieve the goal they so desperately sought – a win at the international level of Sevens.
As expected it was a baptism by fire for Vanuatu on the opening day of the Oceania Sevens championships in Suva, Fiji. Their first taste of international standard rugby was a bitter one with a tough, physical game against regional giants Samoa ending in a 40-0 loss at the final siren.
But lessons learned saw a slightly tighter contest when the men they faced Papua New Guinea in their second Pool match of the day. PNG has been one of the leaders in the Tier 2 group at the world level looking, to be the next Oceania nation to represent at the top level.
The 33-0 loss for Vanuatu again became a classroom in which the inexperienced team learnt the importance of holding a tackle and the necessity of extreme fitness which Sevens players need to sustain the pace of competition at this level.
By the early evening, when the Vanuatu boys ran out on to the field to take on fellow regional minnows Tuvalu, the toll that two hard games had already taken was apparent – for both teams.
But determination in attack saw Vanuatu score the first try when Keleto Doloka ran across the line to dot the ball down. A 7-0 lead was something to be appreciated but reality quickly struck home as Tuvalu entered the scoring battle with two quick tries, taking a 12-7 lead at the half-time break.
The second half was all Vanuatu; retaining the majority of the possession the men in black scored three more tries with another to Doloka and singles to the captain Malau Manaroto and Edmond William.
The third try by the captain gave Vanuatu a seven point lead with just a minute left on the clock and tension was running high as possession became the key. With just seconds left to play Vanuatu scored the fourth to secure the win and the elation was evident.
Finishing the day with one win and two losses means Vanuatu ranked third in its Pool of four and would therefore qualify to play in the 9th-12th Place semi-finals on Saturday.
They will now face Solomon Islands at 10.20am VUT in the battle to finish ninth but the success against Tuvalu will be the major marker for which coach Ala Rayndol was looking.
Even with a day to go, the long journey ahead for this developing team has begun in earnest as it attempts to gain a place at the table with the other top Pacific Rugby nations.