Fiji rugby ‘show people the Fijian way’ with spectacular Olympics triumph
Fiji produced a breathtaking performance that epitomised the pace, power and skill of their distinctive brand of rugby to become the first Olympics men’s sevens champions on Thursday, giving the Pacific island nation its first Olympic Games medal.
Facing Britain in the final of the inaugural tournament, the Fijians ran rampant with five tries in the first half before taking their collective foot off the gas a little and adding only two more after the break to seal a 43-7 victory.
Captain Osea Kolinisau, Jerry Tuwai, Jasa Veremalua, Leone Nakarawa, Vatemo Ravouvou, Josua Tuisova and Viliame Mata all scored tries as Fiji collected its first Olympic title at its 14th Games.
Their mission complete, the Fijian players, many of them in tears, linked arms in a circle on the halfway line and sang together with eyes raised up to the dark skies above.
“We wanted to show people the way we play, the Fijian way,” said coach Ben Ryan.
“We were lucky enough to pull it off in such spectacular fashion.”
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Fiji skipper Kolinisau said everything had gone to plan for the double defending World Sevens Series champions.
“I never dreamt of being an Olympian let alone being a medallist, let alone being a gold medallist,” the star playmaker said, adding that he hoped Ryan would stay on as coach.
“It’s a massive achievement to get a medal. Probably when we wake up tomorrow, it will dawn on us what we’ve achieved here.”
Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who was present at the final as he has been throughout the tournament, said he hoped the gold medal would raise the profile of the melanesian archipelago.
“The brand of rugby that we played today hopefully will put Fiji on the map, little tiny dot,” he said.
“People will now start looking for that dot.”
The shellshocked British failed to even get out of their own half in the opening period and when Dan Norton finally touched down for their only score it was only ever going to be a consolation.
“They just attacked everything, they went for everything and it all paid off,” said Britain’s James Rodwell.
“They’re one of the best there is. They’ve won the world series for the last two years and now they’ve added an Olympic gold medal so credit to them, they had an absolute blinder.”
Japan’s remarkable run at the tournament, which included victories over New Zealand’s All Blacks and France, came to an end with defeat to the Fijians in the semi-finals earlier on Thursday.
Their hopes of having a bronze medal to show for their giantkilling exploits were crushed by South Africa, who ran out 54-14 winners in a similarly lopsided opening medal match.
South Africa’s bronze was the first men’s rugby medal won at the Olympics since the 1924 Paris Games, where the United States won gold in the 15-a-side game.
New Zealand, who have dominated sevens for much of the last two decades but were sent out of the tournament by the Fijians in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, finished fifth.
World Rugby officials were delighted with the success of the six-day tournament, from which Australia took home the women’s title, and confident the sport had done enough to remain in the Games beyond Tokyo 2020.
‘It’s a passion’
Ryan acclaimed his team’s gold as just reward for a country obsessed with rugby sevens.
“The island won’t be having parties in sporadic parts of country, it will be across the entire nation, 355 islands, and it will continue for some time,” he predicted.
“The boys are front page, back page news, 6 o’clock news, you come out of the airport there’s a 20-foot billboard of them and that continues all the way through.
“They’re superstars in Fiji. I could have an hour’s drive to work and I’ll see 50 villages all playing one-touch rugby. It’s a passion, it’s a national sport.”
“It’s an awesome feeling to be a Fijian right now,” prime minister Bainimarama said after watching the game.
Fiji’s capital Suva ground to a standstill during the final, then burst in to cheers, pandemonium and a cacophony of car horns after the triumph.
“Oh wow, it was wonderful, you know Fijians, everybody got on to the street, it was a party with dancing and everything and fireworks, it was just awesome,” said Seini Lakai, who manages the Suva Business Centre downtown.
“Ben Ryan? He’s the king, man,” she said of the English coach.
Cheers echoed through the wards of Suva’s Colonial War Memorial hospital, a receptionist told Reuters by phone.
“Even now everybody’s still celebrating and waving flags,” she said.
Crowds gathered in bars, shopping centres and at the national stadium to watch the match at 10am. After Fiji produced a breathtaking performance, Suva’s streets swelled with revellers honking horns and singing the national anthem, said Lorraine Seeto, a chief manager at Fiji’s central bank who was looking on from the rooftop of the country’s tallest building.
“It’s been a very great celebration for Fiji,” she said.
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Updated: August 12, 2016 04:00 AM