A try by Australia’s Nathan Lawson in the corner in the dying seconds of the game, winning 20-17, ended Fiji’s dominance in the Hong Kong 7s and sets the platform for what will be the most competitive and exciting series to date with qualification for Paris 2024 at stake.
Tries from Josua Vakurinabili and a pair from Waisea Nacuqu saw Fiji lead from the start before Australia hit back through Henry Hutchison, twice, and Tim Clements before Lawson sealed the win for their Hong Kong 7s title in 34 years.
Fiji coach Ben Gollings said: “At the end of the day, we made a final and we’ve been consistent. It’s bitterly disappointing that we lost. Ultimately 30 seconds of rugby was the difference in the end but credit to the boys was a tough year and they stuck at it like I said the consistency and being in another final is fantastic.”
The tournament is the first of 11 rounds on the men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 not only doubles as the qualifiers for the 2024 Paris Olympics that will feature the top four ranked men’s and women’s teams. It also spells relegation for the bottom four teams in the men’s competition for the 2024 Series, which will be reduced from 16 to 12 to equal the number of women’s teams and align with the Olympic competition structure.
Enroute to the finals, Fiji edged Commonwealth Games champions South Africa 12-7 with tries from Joseva Talacolo and Jeremaia Matana to clinch in the quarter-final, before overcoming Pacific neigbours Samoa 19-7 in a pulsating semi-final, with two scores from Filipe Sauturaga and one from Joseva Talacolo. Fiji had progressed through their pool on Friday and Saturday with free-scoring wins over Japan (59-12), Spain (35-21) and the USA (24-0).
Australia had qualified for the knock-out matches thanks to pool victories over New Zealand (24-17) and Hong Kong (43-0) despite a 22-17 defeat to Samoa. Then they beat Ireland 19-5 in the quarter-final before accounting for France 10-7 in the semi-final.
The Series’ next stop is Dubai where the women’s Series will commence, as part of a combined event with the men on 2-3 December 2022, before both men’s and women’s teams move on to Cape Town on 9-11 December.
The women’s pools for Dubai see the all-conquering reigning World, Commonwealth and Series champions Australia in Pool A alongside the USA, Canada and China. In Pool B reigning Olympic champions New Zealand will face France, Great Britain and Brazil. Pool C sees Olympic bronze medallists Fiji together with Ireland, Spain and newly promoted Japan.
The men’s draw sees Pool A with Australia, South Africa, Great Britain and Kenya. Pool B is Fiji, Argentina, New Zealand and Uruguay. Pool C includes France, Ireland, Spain and Uganda. Pool D is made up of Samoa, USA, Canada and Japan.
Photo: World Rugby 7s