AFP/Rio de Janeiro
Stratospheric Fiji claimed their first Olympic medal ever by hammering Britain 43-7 to win the inaugural men’s rugby sevens final at the Rio Games on Thursday.
Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau led the defending Sevens World Series champions as they ruthless won the first Olympic rugby competition in 92 years.
He got the first of five first-half tries, two converted, for a 29-0 lead that a leaden-footed Britain never looked like matching.
“I’m a little bit lost for words. The boys were on another scale of phenomenal,” Fiji’s English coach Ben Ryan said. “They were just stratospheric and they saved the best until last.
“They played some high-risk rugby there and they were outstanding and, hopefully, we showcased Fijian rugby and everybody who was watching, maybe even the British supporters, can have a smile. Just the way we wanted to play the game.
“It’s always been our plan for three years, get them back to number one, win world titles and then claim this first gold medal.”
In a sevens masterclass, the Fijians avoided contact and the long-pass game, putting faith in Ryan’s “no reward without risk” gameplan of off-loading to keep possession.
The Pacific islanders starved the British of the ball, competing successfully at every re-start and refusing to panic on the few occasions they threatened.
The outstanding Kolinisau got his side on the scoreboard, riding Tom Mitchell’s tackle to touch down in the corner.
Jerry Tuwai followed soon after with Britain’s defence failing to cope with the Pacific islanders’ off-loading brilliance.
Jasa Veremalua, Leone Nakarawa and Vatemo Ravouvou all crossed in quick succession, two conversions from skipper Kolinisau handing Fiji the mammoth 29-0 half-time lead.
Another Semi Kunatani off-load saw blockbusting Toulon winger Josua Tuisova go in under the posts, the British defence left clueless at their rivals’ cool, deft play.
Dan Norton claimed a consolation try but it was all about Fiji, their bench left in tears long before the game had ended.
Viliame Mata rubbed salt into the wounds with a seventh final try to the delight of the partisan crowd that included IOC president Thomas Bach, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Britain’s Princess Anne.
“That was probably one game too far for us,” said Britain’s James Rodwell.
“Credit to Fiji. They have played an absolute blinder in that final. Untouchable really in certain aspects of the game.”
It was certainly the perfect publicity for World Rugby as they seek a permanent place for rugby sevens on the Olympic programme, the 15-a-side format having last featured in 1924.
The bronze medal match also proved to be one too many for Japan, shock winners over fancied New Zealand in their opening pool match, as South Africa crushed them 54-14.
A Rosko Specman hat-trick and a Cecil Afrika double proved the bedrock for the convincing victory for the reigning Commonwealth champions and second seeds.
“We’re not the biggest or the fastest team but we work hard for one another and we managed to get fourth. It’s not often that Japan ranks higher than Australia and New Zealand in rugby,” said Japan playmaker Lomano Lemeki.
“The intensity and the way that South Africa played, right from the very first kick-off, had us on the back heel the whole time. We were deeply disappointed in the manner that we played in the semi-final, but a bronze medal is a fantastic finish for us.”
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