Fiji, Japan, Great Britain and South Africa will battle it out for the first rugby gold medals on the Olympic stage for 92 years after a captivating day of sevens at the Deodoro Stadium on Wednesday.
With rain falling throughout the session, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions Fiji, bidding to win their country's first Olympic medal, battled past New Zealand 12-7 to set up a last-four showdown with Japan, who needed a last-minute try from Teruya Goto to beat France by the same scoreline.
The other semi-final pits Great Britain against South Africa after contrasting wins over Argentina and Australia respectively. Team GB needed a sudden death extra-time try by Dan Bibby to beat Argentina 5-0, while South Africa were more comfortable 22-5 winners over Australia in their second meeting of the day.
The semi-finals get underway at 14:30 local time (-4 hrs BST) on Thursday with Fiji taking on surprise package Japan before Great Britain tackle South Africa. The day's action will begin two hours earlier with the 11th place play-off between hosts Brazil and Kenya, which will be followed by the battle for ninth between USA and Spain and the fifth place semi-finals.
Despite the wet conditions, nothing could stop Fiji from throwing the ball around, even if at times it was their undoing. Captain Osea Kolinisau gave the series champions the lead, only for Gillies Kaka to regather his own chip to ensure New Zealand led 7-5 at the break. Fiji continued to probe and some great footwork from Jerry Tuwai unlocked the defence and they were able to hold on for a 12-7 win.
The second quarter-final was equally tight with Japan breaking French hearts with Teruya Goto’s try in the last minute after Les Bleus’ defence opened up in front of him. Damien Cler had given France the lead, but Lote Tuqiri gave Japan hope with a try at the start of the second half. They looked to have missed out when Katsuyuki Sakai's try was ruled out for a forward pass, but up popped Goto to spark more Japanese celebrations.
If that was a tense finale then it had nothing on the next quarter-final as Great Britain and Argentina played out a 0-0 draw – something that has never happened on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Captain Gaston Revol had a chance to win it for Argentina with a penalty at the end of normal time but missed it, just as his opposite number Tom Mitchell did when he struck the post in sudden-death extra-time. Argentina knocked on the rebound and from the resultant scrum Dan Bibby went over out wide to spark the Team GB celebrations as Los Pumas Sevens fell to their knees in devastation.
The last quarter-final, the second meeting of the day between South Africa and Australia, was the most clear cut with the Blitzboks running out 22-5 winners to avenge their 12-7 loss in their Pool B meeting. Seabelo Senatla ran in a try in each other with Rosko Specman and captain Kyle Brown the other try scorers for South Africa to cancel out Tom Cusack's first-half score for Australia.
NINTH PLACE SEMI-FINALS
It wasn’t the game the USA Sevens Eagles wanted to be involved in but a hat-trick from former sprinter Carlin Isles ensured they bounced back from the disappointment of missing out on the quarter-finals with a 24-12 victory over their spirited hosts Brazil.
Daniel Sancery had given the Brazilians hope with the opening try, but the hat-trick from Isles and another try from Danny Barrett ensured the USA booked their place in the ninth place play-off on Thursday against Spain.
Spain, the final qualifiers for Rio as repechage winners, stunned Kenya to win 14-12 with a brace of long range tries from Marcos Poggi. Kenya, who would have arrived in Rio with hopes of a medal, also scored twice through captain Andrew Amonde and Billy Odhiambo but came up short.
SESSION ONE REVIEW
There was plenty of passion and national pride at stake on and off the pitch when Argentina took on Brazil in an all-South American affair. Los Pumas Sevens, though, was too strong for their hosts, running in tries from Axel Muller, captain Revol, Santiago Alvarez, German Schultz and Nicolás Bruzzone for a 31-0 victory that was to prove enough for second place behind Fiji.
The equation for USA was simple, avoid defeat and a quarter-final place was theirs, although it was possible a narrow defeat would be good enough.
They started well when Danny Barrett stepped his way through the Flying Fijians' defence, but Osea Kolinisau and Vatemo Ravouvou crossed for a 12-7 half-time lead for the series champions. With Kolinisau in the sin-bin, the USA hit the front through Perry Baker but then Viliame Mata and Semi Kunatani appeared to have won the match for Fiji.
However, there was to be one further twist after NFL Super Bowl winner Nate Ebner charged down the wing to cut the deficit to five points, but it wasn't to be enough for Mike Friday's team who can now finish no higher than ninth.
Virimi Vakatawa had a quiet day on Tuesday, but burst into action with two tries in France’s 26-5 victory over Spain. Damian Cler and Jeremy Aicardi also touched down before Los Leones broke away at the end to score through Cesar Sempere.
After all that excitement, tension, nerves and elation... How do I go to sleep? Well worth all the emotions though!! #teamSArise— Bryan Habana (@BryanHabana) August 10, 2016
France’s quarter-final place as runners-up was confirmed after Australia handed South Africa their first defeat, 12-5, thanks to tries from Jesse Parahi and Tom Cusack. Seabelo Senatla did cross in the second half but Australia hung on for the victory, but not by the 16 points they needed to leapfrog France into second.
Japan overcame some early nerves to book their place in the quarter-finals with an emphatic 31-7 victory over Kenya, Lomano Lemeki scoring two of their five tries as they built on their displays against New Zealand and Team GB on day one.
Great Britain managed to hang on for a 21-19 victory and top spot in Pool C despite a second-half fightback from New Zealand. Mark Bennett, James Davies and Dan Norton gave Team GB a 21-0 half-time lead, but Rieko Ioane, Regan Ware and Lewis Ormond tries almost saw the All Blacks Sevens complete an incredible comeback.
New Zealand were left with a nervous wait to see whether they had done enough to keep their medal hopes alive. In the end, they had with New Zealand's points difference of +19 just one better than the USA Sevens Eagles to claim one of the two best third-placed spots behind Australia.
Four remain in medal contention but who will win what? Join the conversation @WorldRugby7s using #Rugby7s
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