The New Zealand men’s sevens team’s stop-start Olympic campaign came to an abrupt halt today.
Coach Gordon Tietjens’ team only narrowly made the quarter-finals, relying on goal difference to edge out the United States for the final quarter-final spot.
However, that was as far as the New Zealanders got. They went down 12-7 to Fiji, a match-up few expected so early in the tournament.
The sevens team didn’t begin well when they lost their opening match 14-12 to Japan and had two key players, Sonny Bill Williams and Joe Webber, ruled out of the tournament with injuries.
New Zealand bounced back to beat Kenya 25-8 and there were hopes better was to come.
But against Great Britain this morning New Zealand found themselves down 21-0 at halftime. They fought back with three second-half tries, but still went down 21-19.
That left them in third place in their pool, hoping to grab the last quarter-final spot. It all came down to the final pool match, the United States v Fiji. The Fijians won 24-19, but the Americans missed a late conversion attempt that might well have eliminated New Zealand from the tournament on points differential.
The quarter-final was hard fought.
Fiji scored first after just two minutes and things looked bleak for New Zealand when Rieko Ioane was sin binned. However, the New Zealanders overcame the loss of a player to score a try on halftime, the result of a brilliant chip ahead and gather by Gillies Kaka, who converted. New Zealand led 7-5 at halftime.
In the second spell Jerry Tuwai sowed a fine burst of speed go score under the posts for Fiji. The conversion was a formality and that was the end of the scoring, Fiji winning 12-7.
The New Zealand team held their heads high afterwards.
Captain Scott Curry said he was proud of his players. “We put together our best performance, but obviously we’re very disappointed,” he said.
“There was no lack of effort out there. We gave it our all.
“But three injuries and we were down to 10 players. I think if we had got over with that match we would have gone on to the gold medal match, but it's hard with 10 players.”
Under tournament rules only one injured player can be replaced, which left the New Zealand squad depleted.
Tietjens said New Zealand had lacked consistency through the tournament.
“It's been an up and down tournament for us. We got off to slow starts,” he said. “But we finished on a high note. Obviously it’s disappointing to lose, but we had a chance right to the end.
“Probably some calls didn't go our way, but I’m certainly not looking for any excuses. Fiji deserved to win.”Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games Gillies Kaka Rieko Ioane Gordon Tietjens Scott Curry Rugby - Sevens