Fiji ensures first Olympic medal, now aims for gold
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Fiji rugby sevens squad has secured the country's first Olympic medal, achieving the first target the world series champions set for Rio.
Fiji beat tournament upstart Japan 20-5 in the semifinals to secure the medal and will play later Thursday against Britain, aiming to make it gold.
The Fijians had too much size and firepower for Japan, which shook up the tournament with an opening 14-12 upset win over 12-time world series champion New Zealand. Britain beat South Africa 7-5, with Dan Norton scoring the winning try after Cecil Afrika had given the No. 2-ranked South Africans an early lead.
The Fijians scored four tries to one and rarely appeared threatened in the semifinals.
"The history Fiji have had in sevens in the last 50 years, there's going to be very little words in the changing room before the (final) game," Fiji coach Ben Ryan said. "They know exactly what's at stake.
"They want a gold. This has been our goal: silver's not good enough and gold is, we're one step away from that now."
Rugby is back in the Olympics for the first time since a 15-a-side tournament was played in 1924. The International Olympic Committee took the decision in 2009 to add the sevens format for Rio, and the Fijians have been honing their national sport ever since.
Vatemo Ravouvou scored 65 seconds into the semifinal but was given a yellow-card and sent to the sin-bin for two minutes for an illegal shoulder charge.
Japan exploited the advantage with Teruya Goto speeding over in the left corner to make it 5-5. After that, it was all Fiji.
Josua Tuisova bumped off defenders and dived into the left corner just before half time and Semi Kunatani scored to make it 15-5 early in the second.
That's when the showmen of world sevens stepped up a gear. Jerry Tuwai slalomed into gap after some classic Fijian passing exchanges and outpaced the defense to finish off a length-of-the-field attacking movement.
Lomano Lemeki, one of the stars in Japan's remarkable run to the medal round, said Fiji's ability to unload the ball from anywhere was too difficult to contain.
"There's still a medal up for grabs, though," he said. "No doubt we can still win a bronze."