Fiji beat the defending HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions South Africa in a thrilling Cup final in Hamilton to secure their first tournament title of the 2018 season.
It marked their first Cup title since Hong Kong last April and Fiji were at their free-flowing best to secure the HSBC New Zealand Sevens title in front of an exhilarated crowd at the Waikato Stadium.
In the final Fiji had to come back from 17-5 down at half-time. Three of their four tries were scored by the HSBC Player of the Final Alasio Sovita Naduva with Eroni Sau delivering the fourth.
After the full-time whistle their head coach Gareth Baber was pleased with their final performance and the two days as a whole.
“We did struggle at times in the tournament and won some close games but in the final in the second half we decided we were going to play better that South Africa and we did,” he said.
“The team's character, belief and their love of their country came through and we knew we had the ability to score from anywhere. We had to believe in that and we got momentum in the tackle and in the contact areas.”
Australia claimed the bronze medal after beating hosts New Zealand 8-7 in dramatic fashion, captain James Stannard's penalty after the final siren proving the match-winner.
The Challenge Trophy winners were the USA after day two victories over Spain, Papua New Guinea and Argentina (31-12) in the final.
After four rounds Fiji move up to third in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2018 standings with South Africa extending their lead over second-placed New Zealand to eight points, despite their loss in the final. The teams will reconvene in Las Vegas on 2-4 March.
Fiji 14-12 New Zealand
The first Cup semi-final was eagerly anticipated by the crowd and the fans in Hamilton were treated to a tight encounter between the sides placed second and fifth going into this tournament.
Fiji immediately gained possession from the kick-off and from it produced their first five-pointer. Alosio Sovita Naduva was metres short before recycling and Josua Vakurunabili finished a move that was packed with trademark Fijian offloading. The hosts hit back through Sam Dickson and as a result Amenoni Nasilasila’s conversion separated the two sides at the break.
The All Blacks Sevens started strongly in the second seven minutes. Vilimoni Koroi showed electric pace off the back of a ruck to secure their second try of the game and that pushed them 12-7 ahead.
Almost instantly Fiji capitalised off a quick tap penalty and Mesulame Kunavula hit back. Nasilasila was once again on target with the conversion and that kick would ultimately win them the game. Baber’s side had a final try chalked off after Regan Ware’s pressure forced Vatemo Ravouvou to spill the ball over the line but they held firm for the win.
Australia 5-24 South Africa
The second semi-final was a repeat of last weekend’s Cup final in Sydney. Seven days ago Australia ran out 29-0 winners over South Africa but in Hamilton it was a different story.
The Blitzboks capitalised on two first-half errors to open the scoring. An overthrown lineout and James Stannard losing his footing to create a gap meant that Australia were punished with tries from Cecil Afrika and Seabelo Senatla.
After a misjudged intercept attempt a yellow card followed for Senatla and with the extra man Tim Anstee took advantage before the first-half ended 10-5. Neil Powell’s team talk clearly was a strong one because the Blitzboks held Australia scoreless in the second half. Afrika and Kwagga Smith extended their lead and that set up a Cup final meeting with Fiji.