Fiji scores 3 minutes after final hooter to beat NZ

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Alasio Sovita Naduva

Alasio Sovita Naduva (Photo: Photosport)

SYDNEY (AP) — Jasa Veremalua scored three minutes after the final hooter to give Fiji a 19-17 win over New Zealand on Saturday and first place in the most competitive group at the Sydney Rugby Sevens.

New Zealand led 17-14 with time up on the clock but a knock on close to the Fiji goal line gave the Fijians a scrum which they won as the fulltime hooter sounded. Fiji carried the ball 95 meters through a series of passes and collisions before Veremalua scored in the arms of two Kiwi tacklers to snatch the most dramatic win of the tournament so far.

New Zealand had trailed 14-5 with halftime approaching but a converted try to Regan Ware cut Fiji's lead to 14-12 at the break. Luke Masirewa scored to give New Zealand its first lead at 17-14 and it seemed likely to hold on as it dominated possession.

But a flawed tactical decision to use a grubber kick to the corner in the last seconds led to a knock on and Fiji showed skill and patience to create a length-of-the-field try.

World Series champion South Africa, host Australia and Argentina also topped their pools in the men's competition. South Africa beat England 33-12 in its final match Saturday to finish atop Pool C while Argentina topped Pool B with narrow wins over Kenya, 7-5, Wales, 28-21, and France, 19-12.

Australia beat the United States 26-19, defeated Canada 27-5 and edged Scotland 24-21 to top Pool D.

Tom Lucas scored with less than a minute remaining to give Australia the vital win after Scotland had gone ahead 21-17 with Max McFarland's try only minutes earlier. Australia then had to survive more than three minutes of stoppage time with only six players after receiving a late yellow card.

Fiji plays the United States, South Africa faces Kenya, Argentina takes on England and Australia meets New Zealand in Sunday's quarterfinals.

Trans-Tasman rivals Australia and New Zealand will also meet Sunday in the women's final after steering unbeaten paths through the tournament's pool and knockout rounds.

After both teams emphatically won their pools on the first day of the tournament Friday, Olympic champions Australia beat Spain 29-0 in the quarterfinals and Russia 31-0 in the semifinals. Australia has yet to concede a point in five matches at the tournament.

New Zealand beat Ireland 36-0 in the quarters and defending champion Canada 26-0 in the semis to set up what shapes as a close final.

Russia beat the United States 19-14 and Canada beat France 28-12 in other quarterfinals.

Defensive pressure was a key to Australia's semifinal win on Saturday. Australia's tough defense forced an early turnover and Emilee Cherry crossed in the left corner for Australia's first try.

Emma Tonegato scored in the same spot shortly before halftime to give Australia a 12-0 lead at the break. Charlotte Caslick surprised Russia with a quick tap from a penalty for the first try of the second half and Cassandra Staples ran onto a grubber for a try which snuffed out any chance of a Russian comeback.

Australia now faces its greatest test against New Zealand, which it hasn't beaten since the 2016 Olympic gold medal match in Rio de Janiero.

"New Zealand, current world champions and on fire," Australian coach Tim Walsh said. "It's going to be an epic game; they've got threats all over the place.

"Player for player, it's a really good match-up and the reality is that if one team makes a mistake, the other will just pounce on it."

New Zealand beat Canada by four tries to nil. Captain Portia Woodman opened the scoring with her 13th try of the tournament and Gayle Broughton added a second try that made the lead 12-0 at halftime.

Kelly Brazier and Michaela Blyde scored second half tries and Tyla Nathan-Wong kicked three of four conversions.

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