By JOSEPH PEARSON in Hamilton
Fiji reigns in Hamilton
HAMILTON, New Zealand-February 4, 2018 (Stuff.co): Old foe Fiji won the inaugural Hamilton Sevens beating South Africa after having earlier sent New Zealand crashing out after an enthralling semi-final earlier this evening.
The crowds packed the stands at FMG Stadium Waikato for the titanic tussle this weekend in Hamilton had been waiting for – and the contest of two great rugby sevens nations produced an outstanding encounter worthy of the occasion.
It was frantic, frenetic and loud, as the entire stadium brought all the energy of both days of partying together at once, but it was light blue Fijian flags waving with delirious joy all the way to Fiji then beating South Africa 24-17 in the final.
New Zealand’s Joe Ravouvou is consoled by Fiji’s Eroni Sau. PHOTOSPORT
New Zealand had relinquished a second-half lead against a resurgent Fiji, who beat the hosts 14-12 and dashed Kiwi hopes of claiming a sevens title on home soil after New Zealand’s leg of the World Sevens Series was hosted outside of Wellington for the first time.
To make matters worse, Australia then beat New Zealand 8-7 in the bronze medal match to claim third, and James Stannard’s match-winning penalty drop goal after the hooter buzzed just rubbed salt into Kiwi wounds.
Vatemo Ravouvou (facing camera) and Nasilasila (12) celebrate the semifinal win over New Zealand. GETTY IMAGES
Fiji, who were on the brink of elimination in their quarter-final against Samoa, then avenged their defeat to South Africa in last year’s final in Wellington by fighting back to win the Hamilton decider.
Reigning sevens champions South Africa led 17-5 but the final turned on Branco du Preez’s second-half yellow card and Fiji took full advantage with 17 unanswered points – much to the delight of the colourful and noisy pockets of blue and white dotted around the ground.
All the Fijian flamboyance you would expect was on show for some mesmeric attacks that South Africa simply had no answer to as Fiji marched to a thrilling victory.
Australia beat New Zealand 8-7 to claim third place.
New Zealand had missed their chances – Luke Masirewa guilty of knocking on during their final attack – after leading Fiji 12-7 after the break in their semi-final. the final slip through their fingers.
“It was a hell of a game and typical of New Zealand v Fiji. There were tight margins across the weekend and unfortunately we were on the wrong side in that last game,” he said.
“But we have got stronger. It’s our fourth tournament together with a new coaching group and we’re playing against teams that have had coaches for three to five years.
‘We’re realistic around where we’re at and we’re developing, but just frustrated to lose.”
It’s Clark’s first full season as New Zealand sevens coach after taking over last June.
New Zealand were second in the series standings before Hamilton with one tournament success in Cape Town after three legs.
But Fiji marched on to the final on Sunday after flying out of the blocks.
Josua Vakurunabili rounded off a scintillating move that New Zealand just couldn’t stop despite some heroic defence from the outstanding Vilimoni Koroi.
Vilimoni Koroi breaking clear to score for New Zealand against England in Hamilton.
The hosts then hit back after Fiji twice lost the ball and an initial break from Regan Ware stretched their defence, New Zealand switched the play, and Sam Dickson scored in the corner.
Fiji led 7-5 at the break after a tense exchange of possession, but New Zealand then hit the front for the first time when Koroi broke clear to score under the posts.
The defeaning noise was raising the roof and Fiji came roaring back again to reclaim the lead through Mesulame Kunavula, and after having one try ruled out, their desperate defence kept New Zealand out in the final minutes.
New Zealand and Fiji each come together before their semi-final.
New Zealand had earlier left it late again to come through their quarter-final against England.
After securing top spot in the pool stages with Joe Ravouvou’s last-minute try beating Argentina 17-12 on Saturday, the hosts secured a semi-final place thanks to Scott Curry’s late try. Ruadrih McConnochie’s double kept England in the contest but New Zealand won 19-12.
Fiji were given an almighty scare by Pacific Island rivals Samoa in their quarter-final and needed an incredible last-gasp try from Kalione Nasoko to snatch a dramatic victory.
Samoa pushed Fiji all the way in Sunday’s first quarter-final.
Samoa, who are coached by New Zealand sevens legend Sir Gordon Tietjens, led 10-7 with time up but were turned over and punished as Nasoko gleefully dashed 60 metres down the right flank to break Samoan hearts.
Fiji were that close to losing. But they later left the field as champions.
AT A GLANCE:
Cup quarter-finals: Fiji 12-10 Samoa, New Zealand 19-12 England, Kenya 12-33 Australia, South Africa 22-0 Scotland.
Semi-finals: Fiji 14-12 New Zealand, Australia 5-24 South Africa.
Trophy final: Argentina 12-31 United States.
Fifth place play-off: Samoa 19-15 Kenya.
Bronze medal match: New Zealand 7-8 Australia.
Final: Fiji 24-17 South Africa.
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