Fijians think of home after gold medal win over All Blacks Sevens at Olympics

Asaeli Tuivuaka of Fiji scores the match-clinching try in the Olympic sevens final against New Zealand in Tokyo. Picture: STUFF SPORTS.

Even as triumphant sevens players Jerry Tuwai and Sireli Maqala celebrated an Olympic victory over the All Blacks Sevens team, their thoughts were with their people in COVID-ravaged Fiji.

Fiji were far too good for New Zealand at Tokyo Stadium on Wednesday night, the comprehensive 27-12 victory securing another gold medal to go with the one they won in Rio in 2016.

So good, in fact, that they didn’t even have to unload superstar Semi Radradra, one of the highest paid rugby players in the world, off the bench.

The sight of the Fijian players standing in a circle with their arms linked on the Tokyo Stadium turf after the game, while captain Tuwai addressed them, emphasised how much the win meant to the men from the Pacific.

Fiji has been in the grip of COVID-19, with cases continuing to rise and the main island of Viti Levu issued with new curfew hours as the crisis worsened.

“Everyone is suffering back in Fiji, but I think they will not be thinking about the pandemic now,’’ Tuwai told the media in the post-match press conference.

“But the celebration for the gold medal.’’

Maquala reiterated his captain’s thoughts, dedicating the win to his fellow Fijians.

“I am very proud,’’ Maqala said. “It means a lot to me and the boys, and for all the people back home who have been going through the pandemic.

“It is a really big thing for all of us in Fiji.’’

Fiji blew the New Zealanders off the park from the opening whistle, utilising a combination of power and skill and a clever game plan that involved kicking the ball behind their opponents to win back-to-back Olympic gold gongs.

Meli Derenalagi scored Fiji’s first try after New Zealand’s Joe Webber lost the ball in contact and Napolioni Bolaca snared the second when Andrew Newstubb failed to control the ball in his in-goal.

Tries to co-captain Scott Curry and Sione Molia hauled New Zealand back into the contest, before Fiji lifted the intensity to shut down their opponents in the second half.

Fiji coach Gareth Baber said “it’s hard to underestimate, exactly, the effect this (win) has in Fiji’’.

“Succeeding against the odds, against bigger brothers is particularly good for Fiji,’’ Baber said.

“If we can do something to lift the mood of Fiji for a while, whatever that might be, that was always our ambition. To show the people in Fiji just how much we care about them. Their welfare as well … the way we did that was by what we did in the performance.’’

Like Fiji, the New Zealanders were unbeaten heading into the final; when it was all over, they looked devastated and when Curry fronted for his post-game interview with Sky Sport he struggled to keep his composure.

Japan has proved to be a graveyard for New Zealand rugby teams in recent years; the All Blacks lost 19-7 to England in the World Cup semifinal in Yokohama in 2019.

The New Zealanders’ loss to Fiji denied them a chance to add a prized piece of booty to their treasure chest at NZ Rugby, after they failed to medal in Rio.

Maqala also stated how proud he was to secure a win for family members back home.

“My inspiration are my family,’’ he said. “They know what I have been through with injuries in training, and I want to thank everyone back home.’’

 

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