Fiji beats NZ 21-7 to retain title at Hong Kong Sevens

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Fiji rugby team celebrates after winning the final match against New Zealand at the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament in Hong Kong.

Fiji rugby team celebrates after winning the final match against New Zealand at the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament in Hong Kong. (Photo: Kin Cheung)

Fiji successfully defended the Hong Kong Sevens rugby title when it won a scrappy, tight final against New Zealand 21-7 on Sunday.

The result wasn't sealed until just over a minute was left when New Zealand, trailing 14-7, attacked into the Fiji 22 but was driven off ruck ball by Pio Tuwai. Amenoni Nasilasila passed launched the counterattack, and was the pivot in a loop around by Semi Kunitani, who ran 40 meters untouched to between the posts.

That's when Fiji started celebrating its record-extending 16th Hong Kong crown, and fourth in five years. New Zealand, second-best in Hong Kong with 11 wins, lost the final for a second straight year.

"It was a tight final and I thought our defence was very good," Fiji coach Ben Ryan said. "We made the right decisions at the breakdown.

"I don't think they were ever going to stop us scoring tries. We just needed to stop them scoring, and for the majority of the game our defence was very good."

New Zealand scored first through Pita Ahki, whose sidestepping turned Jerry Tuwai inside and out.

But Tuwai had the score level by halftime when he broke out from his own quarter, kicked ahead, and put New Zealand under severe pressure. Tuwai quick-tapped a penalty and dived over.

Into the second half, the marking remained tight, the tackles hard, and there was no leeway in the rucks.

The Fijians went ahead when they caught New Zealand's defense too narrow, giving an overlap to Kitione Taliga, who was too fast to catch.

The turnover and Kunitani finished off the 14th Hong Kong final between the sevens archrivals, with Fiji winning for the ninth time.

The top four in the world series made the semifinals, leaving the race still open with three events to go. Fiji led by five points from New Zealand, which was one point ahead of South Africa. Australia was 23 points off the pace.

Fiji's belief was boosted by last-seconds wins over Canada in the pool stage, and Kenya in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, New Zealand beat South Africa in the semifinals only in the second period of extra time, when Kurt Baker's crosskick was caught by an unmarked Regan Ware.

The next leg is in Singapore next weekend.

-AP

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