The New Zealand sevens rugby team, hoping to atone for their disappointments in Rio five years ago, had to bow to Fiji in the Olympic final today.
For Fiji, there was total joy at a time when the country is in crisis over a Covid outbreak. For New Zealand, there was shattering disappointment.
Fiji’s sevens prowess was on full display as they toppled New Zealand 27-12.
They won the inaugural title in Rio five years ago, belting Britain 43-7, and while New Zealand gave it a decent shot, they were second best for much of the match.
Still, it was New Zealand's second medal for the day, and second silver after the women's double scull.
Fiji led 19-12 at halftime and in a curious finale for a game based on retaining possession and running rugby, wrapped up the win with a drop kicked penalty.
Fiji scored four tries to New Zealand’s two. There were too many errors from Craig Laidlaw’s New Zealand team on an occasion, and against quality opposition, when they could scarcely afford them.
There were five New Zealand survivors from the 2016 tournament – co-captains Scott Curry and Tim Mikkelson, Regan Ware, Joe Webber and Sione Molia.
Fiji’s first try came after the ball was ripped out of Webber’s grip and when Andrew Knewstubb was unable to complete a regulation forcing of the ball in the in-goal area, Fiji pounced for try No 2.
Curry got New Zealand on the board with a fine individual effort, but then New Zealand surrendered that little bit of momentum off the kick-off. Jiuta Wainiqolo’s 45-metre solid run, shrugging off two tackles put Fiji up 19-5.
New Zealand kept themselves in the hunt with a solo effort from Sione Molia.
The decisive moment came with 90 seconds left when Fiji spun the ball across the field for Asaeli Tuivuaka to cross in the right corner.
New Zealand could have few complaints. Fiji’s athleticism, running power and handling skills were simply too much.
The bronze medal went to Argentina, who held off Britain 17-12.
Coach Clark Laidlaw said afterwards it was a tough result to take in the immediate aftermath of the game. “They’ve done a tremendous amount of work to try to play really well and most of the time they have. Finals rugby is about momentum and creating opportunities and I was very proud that with a minute and a half to go they were still working to do that.”
Co-captain Scott Curry, who was one of the players of the tournament, said his overriding emotion was disappointment. “To lose a match that we had a lot of confidence we could win is obviously very disappointing. We thought we could win the gold. But Fiji played really well and they deserved it.”
He said he was very proud of the group. “It’s been a long time to get us to this point.”
Tom Mikkelson, the other co-captain, reflected back on the team at the end of the last Olympics, in Rio.
“It’s been an amazing ride since Rio,” he said. “We got this new coach here and he got us all back up off the ground. We all moved to Mt Maunganui and worked together. We won the Commonwealth Games, the World Cup, the world series and a silver medal here. I’m proud of this group.”
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games