SANDAKAN, March 19 (Bernama) -- It was a double celebration for Eagles Rugby Club's (ERC) Borneo Eagles and its fairer team Eagles NZ 7s in the Borneo Sevens 2023 rugby tournament, which concluded today.
Borneo Eagles clinched their seventh win after beating Hong Kong China Dragons 17-12, the very team they downed in the 2019 edition before the tournament was postponed three years following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consisting of Malaysian and New Zealander players, the home team had formerly won the Borneo Sevens tournament in 2004, 2007, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
The final match saw a nail-biting scene between Borneo Eagles and Hong Kong China Dragons with the Eagles leading with two points at 7-5 in the first half, but the second half saw a tie at 12 points each, until Eagles’ Kaleb Jean emerge as their saviour with a try, minutes before the final whistle, to help them secure their seventh title win.
Team captain Serupepeli Naqasima said it was a tough match especially given that their opponents are a national side, who are training for the upcoming Hong Kong Sevens in two weeks.
“We (Borneo Eagles) salute them (Hong Kong China Dragons) because the final is do-or-die so it would be tougher, but we had to be stronger. If we made a mistake, they punished us. If they made a mistake, we punished them and we pushed the envelope until the final whistle,” he said.
Meanwhile, Eagles NZ 7s, also a mix of Malaysian and New Zealander players, made history as the first home women’s team to hoist the Borneo Sevens Cup since the competition’s establishment in 2001.
Their hard-earned 22-10 win over Kazakhstan Rugby saw a stunning performance from the squad who had only been together for a couple of weeks before the competition.
Eagles NZ 7s captain Rebekah Cordero Tufuga said it was an amazing effort all around and hoped she would be invited back to help the squad defend the Cup.
“I think this time around the competition was really competitive, everyone just wanted it, but our girls worked hard to get the results we wanted today,” she said.
Winners of both categories received US$5,000 (RM22,428), a trophy and medals while the runners-up received US$2,500 (RM11,214), a trophy and medals.
Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh, who was present to watch the final matches of both categories as well as tour the ERC facilities where the three-day tournament was held, also graced the prize giving ceremony.
Also present to the delight of fans and participating teams were former New Zealand Rugby Union (All Blacks) player Rocky Khan and former Samoa Rugby Sevens national team coach Sir Gordon Frederick Tietjens.
Sabah Rugby Union president Velayuthan Tan, who is also ERC president, was eager and hoped the effort of offering matching grants for organising international level competitions, which is being debated in Parliament, will be passed.
“Having an effort such as matching grants will go a long way, especially in a competition of Borneo Sevens’ magnitude.
“In order to attract many foreign teams to come here, we need to cover at least their lodging because flight is expensive, but with a high level competition, many would want to come here to train and play against us such as Hong Kong China Dragons,” he said.
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