Champions Fiji in 'tough day' as favourites unbeaten at rugby sevens

Staff Reporter 2021-07-26, 9:27pm Other Sports

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TOKYO - Defending champions Fiji set up a pool B decider with reigning silver medallists Britain after scraping past hosts Japan and outgunning Canada on the opening day of the Olympic men's rugby sevens at Tokyo Stadium on Monday.

Fellow sevens powerhouses New Zealand and South Africa, as well as the United States, also came through action unbeaten, but Japan went on to suffer a second loss to drastically slash their Cup hopes.

After winning the inaugural sevens competition in Rio in 2016, beating Britain 43-7 in the final, Fiji came to Tokyo as hot favourites to nail down back-to-back gold.

But they made a shaky start at an empty stadium in hot, humid conditions, almost undone by two Fijian exports in the Japan side in their opening match.

Tries by Fiji-born Lote Tuqiri and Kameli Soejima had given the host nation a 19-12 lead, with alarm bells ringing that an upset mirroring Japan's stunning victory over New Zealand in the opening round of the Rio Games was on the cards.

But a late brace of tries by Waisea Nacuqu pushed Fiji back into the lead and an eventual 24-19 victory.

The Fijians then laboured past Canada, who lost 24-0 to Britain, 28-14 to set up a pool decider with the British team on Tuesday.

"It was a tough day at the office for us, a lot of mistakes," said Fiji's Meli Derenalagi. "But I know the boys will try to pull up their socks.

"It's the difference between the world stage and Olympic stage, teams bring out their best players to come and participate here. The boys are adapting to it and I'm sure we'll come out harder tomorrow.

"The boys are trying to give hope back to the people at home and put a smile on their faces."

- Britain after 'revenge' -

Britain followed up on their win over Canada by blanking Japan 34-0 and will head into the final pool game against the Fijians full of confidence.

"Hopefully we can get a bit of revenge," said Britain's Stade Francais-bound Harry Glover in reference to the 2016 final against Fiji.

South Africa, bronze medallists in 2016, overcame the absence of coach Neil Powell -- in isolation after a Covid-19 outbreak and dishing out advice by live laptop feed -- to comfortably beat Ireland 33-14 before despatching Kenya 14-5 in a hard-fought game.

The USA also boasted two wins from two in the same pool after recording a dramatic 19-14 opening victory over the Kenyans, before edging the Irish qualifiers 19-17.

New Zealand, who failed to make the podium in Rio, crushed South Korea 50-5 before turning on the style to see off Argentina, 29-19 winners over Australia in their opener, 35-14 in Pool A.

"We're just getting used to playing together again. We are hoping to build combinations as we go through the tournament and sharpen up a bit," said New Zealand's Joe Webber.

Fiji-born Wallaby Seru Kerevi, one of the few full 15s internationals at the Olympics, showed his X-factor, the powerful centre turning rock-solid defence into attack at every turn as the Australians put the Koreans to the pump, running out 42-5 winners.

The two top teams from each pool plus the two best-placed third-placed teams after the conclusion of pool play Tuesday advance to the Cup quarter-finals later in the day.BSS/AFP