Fiji outgun New Zealand to defend Olympic rugby sevens title

Wed, 28/07/2021, 10:01 am
AFP
by AFP
Fiji claim back-to-back gold medals. Photo: Getty Images
Fiji claim back-to-back gold medals. Photo: Getty Images

Fiji defended their Olympic rugby sevens title with an entertaining 27-12 victory over New Zealand at the Tokyo Stadium on Wednesday.

The Fijians, superbly marshalled by omnipresent skipper Jerry Tuwai, were quick to pile the pressure on New Zealand, a robust defence the cornerstone of their all-encompassing game.

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They took the lead when a smart offload after Sireli Maqala stripped Joe Webber of the ball found Meli Derenalagi, who stretched his large frame to cross in the corner.

When an under-pressure Andrew Knewstubb failed to ground a tentative grubber over the Kiwi line, Maqala was on hand to pounce on the loose ball for a second try converted by Napolioni Bolaca.

But Scott Curry, instrumental to New Zealand's run to the final, showed a surprising turn of pace to run one back in for the men in black, who have 12 sevens world series titles to their name.

Fiji fired straight back, the jinking Jiuta Wainiqolo riding a Knewstubb tackle and swerving away to race in for the Islanders' third try, Bolaca hitting the extras.

Sione Molia clawed one back for New Zealand to keep them in the game, doing well to battle his way out of an attempted Tuwai wrap-around and skip away, Fiji up 19-12 at half-time.

The second-half, however, was all Fiji. Molia was hand to produce a try-saving tackle under relentless pressure.

But befitting a team who play rugby sevens, according to coach Gareth Baber, as uniquely as Australian cricketers of the 1990s and the vaunted Brazilian football team of the 1970s, the ball was swiftly and confidently moved to the other wing for Asaeli Tuivuaka to dot down for a simple, decisive try.

A late penalty in the Kiwi 22m area saw Fiji opt to run down time to the hooter, Waisea Naqulu hitting a penalty for the final word in front of empty stands at a baking Tokyo Stadium.

Fiji had run out 26-14 semi-final winners over Argentina, while New Zealand outmuscled Great Britain 29-7 in the other last-four clash. In the bronze medal match, Argentina beat Britain 17-12.

The third-place play-off opened at a rip-roaring pace, Ben Harris crossing within 40 seconds for Britain before Argentina scrum-half Lautaro Bazan Velez responded with a cheeky snip down the blindside.

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One of the tournament's standout players, Marcos Moneta -- a Youth Olympic Games gold medallist -- added a second and his sixth of the tournament, with Santiago Mare converting to make it 12-7 at half-time.

Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Ignacio Mendy then swapped scores before British captain Dan Libby was caught in possession and the whistle was blown, leaving Los Pumas in delight.

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