Fiji picked up their first ever Olympic medal by defeating Great Britain in the final of the rugby sevens to claim the sport’s first ever gold.
So much was built up for the final, as the sport makes its debut at the Olympics, undergoing a trial until after the 2020 games out in Tokyo. There was a heap of pressure on the Fijian side, the number one seeds, as they were expected to claim not just the nation’s first medal, but take the gold for the 900,000 people back home. As for Great Britain, their target was a medal at the games, and after a gritty win over South Africa in the semi-final to win7-5, there was a clear sense they didn’t want the gold as much as their opponents. The GB defence had been solid all tournament, but the dam broke in the final.
Tears during the national anthem showed how much Fiji wanted that elusive gold medal, and on the first two occasions that they got possession of the ball, they ran in two tries. Captain Osea Kolinisau was free on the overlap and opened the scoring inside the first minute, and a super offload out of the tackle allowed Jerry Tuwai to go round the outside and dot down under the posts.
A simple move enabled Jasa Veremalua to score in the corner, and off the kick-off Fiji scored again when Dan Norton could only parry the restart to a Fijian hand, and another offload let Leone Nakarawa to go over with ease. The score was extended to 29-0 at half-time, with yet another trademark Fijian off-load finding the speedy Vatemo Ravouvou this time, and he romped home all the way from the half-way line.
Although Team GB did improve in the second half, they still couldn’t stop the Fijian onslaught. A turnover at the breakdown was followed by an offload, Veremalua unselfishly gave the ball to Josua Tuisova on the try-line to score.
Britain did get on the scoresheet in the second half, with substitute Ollie Lindsay-Hague taking a quick tapped penalty, beating the defender and playing in Norton to score in the corner. Vilimane Mata then scored a bit of a freak try in the closing stages, managing to turn over a ruck and score at the same time, and Fiji ran out eventual 43-7 winners in the most one-sided of finals.
Earlier in the day, Fiji had put shock story Japan to the sword in the semi-final in a 20-5 win, and for Japan it looked as if they had run out of steam from their two days of brilliant performances. The Japanese, who defeated South Africa at the Rugby World Cup last year, couldn’t repeat the trick in the bronze medal match against the Springboks, and by this point they were running on empty. South Africa claimed a landslide victory 54-14, scoring eight tries in the process.
The prior Great Britain/South Africa semi-final was a completely different kettle of fish, as this was a tale of stern defences rather than rampant attacking play. South Africa led 5-0 at the break with Kyle Brown picking up the try near the corner, but playing with the wind behind them that didn’t look to be enough as the sides changed ends. Britain’s Norton produced a magical sidestep to beat his man in the second half, and crucially got his score under the posts. This provided the easiest of conversions for Tom Mitchell, and some more resolute defending in the closing stages ensured GB would be in the final, and ultimately take home the silver medal.
Hopefully the International Olympic Committee will see what a brilliant sport rugby sevens is and make it a permanent fixture at the Games. To be able to have a small country such as Fiji take home a gold medal is utterly fantastic, and even minnows Japan were one win away from an Olympic medal. The disappointment was the lack of crowds out in Rio, with rugby being one of the smaller sports in Brazil. Tokyo plays host in four years’ time and with the recent success of the 15-a-side team and a great performance here in Rio, things could be different especially with Japan also hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019.