Fiji beats South Africa 24-17 to win New Zealand Sevens
HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) — Alosio Sovita Naduva scored three tries as Fiji rallied from 17-5 down at halftime to beat South Africa 24-17 Sunday in the final of the New Zealand leg of the Rugby Sevens World Series.
In claiming its first World Series title since Hong Kong in April last year, Fiji looked again like the team that claimed the first Olympic gold medal in sevens in Rio de Janeiro two years ago.
Finding themselves 12 points down at halftime against the reigning World Series champions, they reverted to the brilliant, instinctive style which has always been their hallmark to outscore the Blitzbokke 19-0 in the second half.
After winning all three of their pool matches on the tournament’s first day Saturday, Fiji posted two cliff-hanging wins in the knockout rounds to make its way to the final.
It first beat Pacific rival Samoa 12-10 in the quarterfinals, then hosts New Zealand 14-12 in a thrilling semifinal. Fiji entered the gold medal match with a 9-6 record in 15 previous World Series finals meetings against South Africa and extended that to become the fourth different winner in four tournaments on this season’s World Series.
“We had a young team and I’m really happy. It was team effort,” Fiji captain Jerry Tuwai said. “When we were behind at halftime I told the boys ‘this is the last game. After this we go home so give everything.’ As I said, this is a young team and this will do a lot to lift our morale going into (the next tournament) in Las Vegas.”
South Africa had reached the final with a 22-0 quarterfinal win over Scotland and a 24-5 semifinal win over Australia which avenged their 29-0 loss to Australia in the final of last weekend’s Sydney Sevens.
Fiji ended New Zealand’s hopes of a home title when it won a tight semifinal 14-12, with a late try to Mesulame Kunavula.
Australia then kicked a penalty in the third minute of injury time to beat New Zealand 8-7 in the playoff for third place.
South Africa, who won the first leg of the series in Dubai, now leads the series with 77 points from New Zealand (69 points) who won the second tournament at Cape Town. Fiji’s win lifted them to third place with 62 points ahead of Australia with 60 and Argentina with 48.
The next tournament in Las Vegas, the fifth of 10 stops on the World Series circuit, begins on March 2.