There was double celebration for Fiji at the Pacific Games in Port Moresby on Friday as their men’s and women’s teams both claimed gold medals in the rugby sevens competition.
Fijiana were the first to be crowned champions after edging top seeds Australia 12-10 in the women’s final at BSP Stadium in the Papua New Guinea capital.
Australia captain Nicole Beck had the chance to convert her own try in the dying moments to tie the scores, but she put the kick wide and Fiji reclaimed the restart and booted the ball into touch to successfully defend their Pacific Games title.
If the women’s final was a nail-biting encounter that went right down to the wire, the men’s gold medal match was a one-sided affair with defending champions Samoa having no answer to Fiji’s play, going down 33-7.
Papua New Guinea gave the home crowd something to cheer about by winning bronze in the women’s competition with a 15-0 victory over New Caledonia, but they were unable to repeat the feat in the men’s competition, losing 19-12 to Tonga despite scoring the final two tries of the match.
Tonga’s victory means they finish as the best team behind Fiji and Samoa to claim one of Oceania Rugby’s two places in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifying event in Hong Kong to determine the team that will join the series in 2016-17 as a core team.
The region’s other place will be filled at the Oceania Rugby Sevens event in November, when Olympic qualification will also be on the line for Rio 2016 with one team qualifying in both the men’s and women’s events.
The women’s final was inevitably between the pre-tournament favourites Australia and Fiji. The two sides had met in the opening match of the rugby sevens competitions on Wednesday with the Australians running out 26-7 winners.
Australia made the better start in the final with Georgina Friedrichs scoring the opening try in the corner, but just before half-time Fiji drew level at 5-5 when a strong run by Rusila Tamoi set up Ana Roqica for the try.
The score remained that way well into the second half but the match turned when Friedrichs was sin-binned and despite some resolute defence the Fijians made the breakthrough, Timaima Ravisa making the break down the wing and then fed Litia Naiqato over the try-line to touch down.
With only moments left Beck made another break but the captain – one of the most experienced players in the Australia squad – was unable to convert her try and Fiji were able to celebrate and lay the gauntlet down to their men’s team to join them on the top step of the podium.
Australia coach Tim Walsh was inevitably disappointed at the loss.
“For me the game was there to be won and I’m pretty disappointed that we couldn't get the gold. Defensively we were fantastic, we covered the inside shoulders but in attack we just couldn’t quite execute while our re-starts weren't on the mark.
Go, Fiji, Go
“Eight of the team were on their national team debut and perhaps at times showed their inexperience – to play against a side [Fiji] that has a wealth of World Series experience behind them was always going to be a tough ask.
“Moving forward, the depth we are creating bodes well for the succession plan. We had a very young side out here and I’m hopeful that some of them will come through and be World Series players – and perhaps Olympians – for us.”
Fiji’s men went into the Pacific Games on the back of winning a first World Series title since 2006 and while they were missing a number of star names, they still impressively stormed through the pool stages, scoring 195 points and conceding none in beating PNG, Guam, Solomon Islands and Tahiti.
They continued that form into the knockout stages to beat Tahiti and Papua New Guinea to reach the final and then once Kitione Dawai scored the opening try there was only going to be one winner. Dawai’s chip and chase was fumbled by Samoa, allowing him to kick the ball ahead and dive on it over the line.
He latched onto a looping pass minutes later to evade the defence and with three minutes to half-time Fiji had their third try, some of the trademark Fijian sevens play seeing them over in the corner for a 19-0 advantage.
Two more tries followed in the second half for Fiji with Samoa only able to muster one in reply to ensure the result of the 2011 final was reversed to the delight of the Fijians fans, who had been chanting ‘Go, Fiji, Go’ for hours.
Photo credit: Dave Buller
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