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Fiji’s rugby sevens warriors will be sore and hurting after a tough fortnight where they experienced the highest highs and lowest lows the game has to offer.
Losing out in a Commonwealth Games gold medal match for the third time will sting the proud island nation, with New Zealand running out 14-0 winners in the men’s final on the Gold Coast.
But the All Blacks were much fresher, having brought a second string for the Hong Kong Sevens last week, while Fiji stuck to their guns and were rewarded with a fourth title in a row here.
Eventually, Fiji’s monumental efforts caught up with them and they paid the price in Australia.
“I don’t think we were at our best when we got to the final,” said Fiji coach Gareth Baber. “We had a tough semi-final against South Africa and came through a sudden death clincher in that one.
[New Zealand perform a haka as they celebrate after defeating Fiji to win the gold medal. Photo: AP]
“But I was really pleased with the efforts we’ve made over the past couple of weeks. We took a team to Hong Kong and that team came here.
“We’re one of the few teams that did that. To put ourselves in a final and get there …”
Some might say it was naive for Fiji to prioritise Hong Kong – their spiritual home where they have dominated with 18 titles – over a much rarer Commonwealth Games medal.
But the islanders’ expected victory at Hong Kong Stadium brought relief to their disaster-affected fans, who are still suffering after Cyclone Josie tore through the island nation.
Everyone knows the importance that is given in Fiji to the Hong Kong Sevens above all other tournaments – just take a look at the tears that were streaming down every cheek as the players’ lined up for the national anthem ahead of the Hong Kong final. Fiji steamrollered a game Kenya side, racking up a punishing 24-12 win.
Rugby sevens is like a religion for the people of Fiji – it is “the social glue that pulls everyone together” as Baber put it – and no doubt their proud players will feel they have let those at home down.
But Baber should be applauded for attempting to win both tournaments when New Zealand, South Africa, England and all the other big boys brought weakened sides to Hong Kong.
That Fiji fell only at the final hurdle at the Commonwealth Games is even more impressive and speaks to the heart these players show every time they take to the pitch. They should take great pride from their efforts these past two weeks.
The Olympic champions belted out their national anthem at Robina Stadium stadium on Sunday with just as much passion as they had done in Hong Kong – Baber was possibly the loudest of them all – but Fiji’s tiredness finally seemed to tell.
They looked physically and mentally spent as Etene Nanai-Seturo and Regan Ware crossed for New Zealand inside four minutes.
Paula Dranisinukula seemed certain to pull a try back for Fiji early in the second half but Kiwi captain Scott Curry pulled off an excellent covering tackle and the All Blacks never looked back.
“Just after half-time we had a break against New Zealand, had we scored that possibly we would’ve created a bit of momentum,” said Baber.
“But in all fairness to New Zealand I thought they played an excellent game this afternoon and they’re deserved winners.”
It just wasn’t to be for Fiji, but they will go again in Singapore in two weeks where they will look to overhaul South Africa at the top of the standings in the World Series.
SOURCE: CHINA MORNING POST/PACNEWS
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