Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Fiji break 10-year Hong Kong drought

‘DISAPPOINTED’: After a first half that saw Fiji up by as many as 19 points, South Africa battled back to lose by only two points and remain winless in the tournament

AFP , HONG KONG

A rugby fan dressed as a panda runs in the stadium before the semi-final match between Fiji and Kenya at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Fiji won a tense final against South Africa 26-24 to claim their first Hong Kong Sevens title in 10 years yesterday.

The Fijians turned on the style in a flamboyant first half before clinging on as South Africa agonizingly put a last-gasp conversion wide.

Fiji took the last of 10 previous Hong Kong titles in 1999 and also lifted the 2005 World Cup, while three-time finalists South Africa are still searching for their first win.

Coach Iliesa Tanivula brought a new-look squad to Hong Kong, axing his overseas-based stars who crashed out in this month’s World Cup quarter-finals.

“Back home we were written off by our fans but it worked in our favor,” Tanivula said. “There were no expectations. It gave us motivation to do better. Fijians around the world didn’t give us a chance, but all credit to the boys, I take my hat off to them.”

Two tries from Emosi Vucago and another from Osea Kolinisau put Fiji 19-0 up before South Africa’s Renfred Dazel and Robert Ebersohn pulled it back to 19-12 at half-time.

Seremaia Burotu skipped past three tackles to score early in the second half, but indiscipline nearly cost Fiji dearly as both Nasoni Roko and Vereniki Goneva were sin-binned.

South Africa scored through Vuyo Zangqa and then Lionel Mapoe after the hooter to give them a chance to force extra time. But captain Mzwandile Stick pushed the vital conversion attempt right.

“We lost the game in the first half. Too many missed tackles and against a team like Fiji, that’s going to cost you,” South Africa coach Paul Treu said. “I’m a bit disappointed we didn’t stick to our plan because the tournament was there for the taking.”

With the win, Fiji go third in the Sevens World Series standings behind South Africa and England, with three tournaments to go.

Fiji also stunned England 10-7 with a late try in the quarter-finals and convincingly beat Kenya 24-7 in the semis.

“I’m utterly disappointed,” England coach Ben Ryan said. “Sevens is like that — it’s on the turn of a coin, a change of advantage. One decision and the game changes.”

South Africa downed Australia in the quarter-finals before beating Samoa 29-3 in the last four.

But defending champions New Zealand were left waiting for their first title of the season after being shocked 10-7 by Kenya in the quarter-finals.

In the second-tier Plate final, Tonga landed a conversion after the hooter to beat Canada 14-12, while Portugal downed Uruguay by the same score for the Bowl trophy.

The Hong Kong Sevens began in 1976 and has become a mainstay of expatriate life in the former British colony.

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