Olympics-Rugby-Fiji retain title with emphatic win over New Zealand

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Rugby Sevens - Men - Medal Ceremony - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - July 28, 2021. Fiji players pray before the match. REUTERS/Phil Noble

TOKYO (Reuters) -Fiji maintained their dominance of the Olympic Rugby Sevens on Wednesday with a comprehensive 27-12 gold medal win over New Zealand at the Tokyo Stadium, retaining the title they won in Rio five years ago.

Argentina claimed the bronze with a 17-12 victory over Britain, sparking wild scenes of celebration, and plenty of tears, at the final whistle.

But it was Fiji’s day as they ran in four tries to cap an excellent tournament. They put pressure on their near neighbours from the start with a deep kick and were rewarded when the tall Meli Derenalagi dived over in the corner.

Fiji were in again when Andrew Knewstubb failed to gather a kick into New Zealand’s in-goal area and the impressive Sireli Maqala dotted down the loose ball.

All Blacks co-captain Scott Curry then crossed for an unconverted try, but Fiji had fire in their bellies and Jiuta Wainiqolo, who was in tears at the anthems, beat two defenders with a rampaging run down the right wing to score.

The All Blacks’ Sione Molia showed great leg-drive to power over the line after the halftime hooter, but Fiji dominated possession in the second period and Asaeli Tuivuaka crossed for the try that sealed the win.

“I’m very proud. It means a lot to me and the boys, and for all the people back home who have been going through the pandemic. It is a really big thing for all of us in Fiji,” Maqala said.

New Zealand co-captain Tim Mikkelson admits the silver medal is a “bitter-sweet” moment.

“It’s pretty disappointing to take it this far and not to win. We had our opportunities out there. Credit to Fiji, they took theirs, and we didn’t,” he said.

“With the COVID-19 situation, we weren’t sure for a long time if we were going to get here at all. It has been an amazing experience, but it is bitter-sweet.”

In the bronze medal match, Ben Harris put Britain in front with an early score, but Argentina roared back as Lautaro Bazan Velez and the electric Marcos Moneta, one of the players of the tournament, ran in tries to give them a 12-5 lead at the break.

Ollie Lindsay-Hague levelled for Britain, though that joy was short-lived as Ignacio Mendy was put into acres of space for what proved the winning score with two minutes remaining.

The women’s Sevens competition starts on Thursday at the same venue and will conclude with the gold medal match on Saturday.

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