Fiji became the ninth women's team to confirm their place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games after reaching the final of the Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship, while Australia's men will join their women's team in Japan after also getting the job done at the ANZ Stadium in Suva.
Fiji's qualification route was a lot more straightforward as they eased to a 36-0 win over Papua New Guinea in the qualifier final before falling 24-12 to invitational winners Australia in the match to decide the overall Oceania title. New Zealand won the third-place play-off 29-0 against PNG.
Meanwhile, Australia's men had to overcome a real scare against Samoa, coming back from 12-0 down at half-time to win 19-12. They went on to contest the Oceania title against defending Olympic champions Fiji, and three second-half tries saw them come from behind to make it a golden day all-round for Australia. Japan beat Samoa 26-21 to claim the bronze medal.
Fijiana captain Rusila Nagasau said that they treated every game like a final as they wanted to ensure they gave their best performance for the Olympic qualifiers.
“For us right now everybody is happy. We came here with one aim and that is to qualify for the Olympics and we achieved that and now we are looking forward to the next tournament which is Dubai and Cape Town,” Nagasau said.
Ana Maria Naimasi bagged a brace of tries in the deciding match against PNG and she was joined on the scoresheet by Vasiti Solokoviti, Viniana Riwai, Luisa Tuisolo and Tokasa Seniyasi.
Leading by example
In a highly contested men’s Olympic qualifiers final, Australia were rescued by Samoan ill-discipline and a late effort from captain Lewis Holland.
Trailing by 12 points at half-time, Australia's Olympic dream appeared to be fading fast but tries from Henry Hutchison and Lachie Anderson, either side of a Samoan red card, got them back on level terms before Holland gathered his own charge down to score in the final 90 seconds and give Australia the lead for the first time in the match, and that was enough to seal the win.
Victory over Fiji in the final rounded off a very satisfactory weekend for Australian rugby.
“The last three months have been about that game there (against Samoa) and we knew we were going to have a tough and physical game against Samoa. The tournament has been awesome as Oceania is always a tough region as we look at the teams that are in it like Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and everyone else. It’s always tough and physical,” Holland said.
Tournament director Wayne Schuster said that the level of competition has intensified as the Olympic qualifiers had brought a lot of excitement to the tournament this year.
“The prospect of qualifying for the greatest spectacle in the world brings the intensity and that certainly was the case in the last couple of days where we’ve seen not only the Fiji, Australia and Samoa teams vying for the spots but also down to the other unions,” Schuster said.
The weekend was also memorable for the fact that Vanuatu women's team made their international debut and they performed creditably throughout.
Eighteen teams have so far confirmed their place at Tokyo 2020. The men’s teams include Fiji, USA, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Canada, Great Britain, Japan and now Australia, while New Zealand, USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, Kenya, Japan and Fiji will be in the 12-strong line-up in the women's competition. They will be joined by the African men's and Asia women's qualifiers by the end of the weekend.
Papua New Guinea and Samoa women and Samoa and Tonga men will get the chance to join them in Tokyo after they booked their place in the global repechage tournament as the second and third-best teams who had not yet already qualified for the Olympic Games.