The range of emotions that rugby sevens can engender was perfectly demonstrated on the opening day of the HSBC Sydney Sevens 2020, one of the last sporting tournaments to be held before the COVID-19 shutdown, as Fiji's women experienced agony and ecstasy in a few short hours.
Going into the tournament the USA sat fourth in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 standings, following their victory on home soil in the opening round in Glendale in October with a bronze medal in Dubai, Cup quarter-final exit in Cape Town and a fifth place play-off win in Hamilton.
Fiji, meanwhile, had only made one Cup quarter-final, losing heavily to Australia 38-7 in Cape Town, and went into the opening match of the tournament as underdogs.
A thrilling comeback saw Fijiana run out shock 19-14 winners, but a North American double was beyond them as Canada won 20-14 in their next game.
The USA scored the first sevens try at Bankwest Stadium, the new home for the tournament, with an overthrown Fiji lineout five metres from their own line giving Ilona Maher the easiest try she'll ever score, but the response was swift with Luisa Tisolo's pace taking her through five players to race away to tie the scores on the stroke of half-time.
Alev Kelter than stole the ball at the breakdown to give Kris Thomas an easy run-in, but once again Fijiana hit back instantly when Alowesi Nakoci went round the outside. Nakoci, making her first series appearance for two years, should have scored the winner with little more than a minute to play, but she tried to get nearer to the posts and was forced over the dead-ball line.
Fortunately for her, play was brought back for a deliberate knock-on by Kelter and Mereseini Leivere scored to clinch a 19-14 victory.
Canada keep cool
Canada were determined not to suffer the same fate as their North American rivals, but Fiji were clearly in the mood for another upset with Roela Radiniyavuni scoring inside a minute.
Dubai and Hamilton runners-up Canada responded with a try by captain Ghislaine Landry before missed tackles allowed Bianca Farella to give her side a slender 10-7 lead. That grew when Charity Williams charged her way over, but Canada knew Fiji were very much still in the match, especially after Nakoci burst through to run in another try to leave only a point separating the teams at 15-14.
A tense finale awaited, even after Keyara Wardley's try because Greenshields was unable to add the conversion to put the result beyond doubt. Fortunately for Canada, Fiji made an error and they were able to run down the clock for a 20-14 victory.
Fiji went on to cap an impressive tournament with a 17-5 victory over England that saw them finish fifth for the first time since the final round of the 2016-17 series in Clermont-Ferrand. Canada added a third silver medal to their collection.
The doubleheader from Sydney is the first of four live streams being shown by World Rugby this week:
- Friday, 24 April – England v Canada – RWC 2014 – 19:00 BST
- Saturday 25 April – South Africa v New Zealand – RWC 1995 – 19:00 BST
- Sunday, 26 April – Scotland v Samoa – RWC 2015 – 16:00 BST