Fiji became favorites for the Commonwealth Games gold medal in rugby sevens after beating South Africa 27-22 in extra time to win the Wellington round of the International Rugby Board circuit yesterday.
Speedster Neumi Nanuku scored his second try of the match in the fourth minute of golden-point overtime to seal the win after Fiji blew a 12-point lead in the dying moments of a thrilling final.
South Africa scored two tries in the last two minutes of regular time to erase a 22-10 deficit and tie the match at 22-22 seconds after the final whistle.
Stefan Basson had a slightly angled conversion attempt which, if successful, would have given South Africa the match and title but his right-footed drop goal held up and floated narrowly wide of the posts.
The miss forced the match into only the second extra-time period of the tournament. Fiji clinched its second win in three tournaments this season when Nanuku outsprinted the defense.
Earlier, rising star William Ryder scored three tries and made Nanuku's first with a brilliant head-fake and pass to give Fiji what had seemed an unassailable lead.
Ryder was discovered playing soccer by Fiji coach and sevens legend Waisale Serevi and immediately drafted into the national side. His performance Saturday, reminiscent of Serevi at his best, established him as the hottest property on the world sevens circuit.
Serevi, 37, put down his coach's clipboard yesterday to play Fiji's semifinal and took the field late in the final when Fiji's victory seemed assured. He made a try-saving tackle late in the match but couldn't stem the comeback which forced the match into overtime.
Ryder scored the first try of the final in its opening minute but South Africa replied four minutes later through Fabian Juries, whose second try after halftime was his 125th try on the IRB circuit.
In reaching that mark he tied the all-time record which had been set earlier in the day by Argentina's Santiago Gomez Cora.
Gomez Cora set the try-scoring record at 123 on the first day of the Wellington tournament, saw it equaled later that day by England's Ben Gollings, then reclaimed it briefly yesterday before it was tied by Juries.
Ryder's second try and Nanuku's first gave Fiji a commanding 17-5 lead at halftime.
Juries scored again and grabbed his share of the record in the sixth minute of the second half but Ryder claimed his hat trick and seemed to seal the match for Fiji in the seventh minute.
Fiji relaxed at that point and were stung by tries a minute apart to Phillip Burger and Gio Aplon, both of which were unconverted.