TOKYO (AP) — Jerry Tuwai’s Fijians are within one victory of back-to-back Olympic gold medals in a sport that’s intrinsically part of life in their Pacific island nation. Trying to stop them will be a New Zealand team already assured of winning its first men’s rugby sevens medal of any kind.
Fiji beat Argentina 26-14 in the semifinals on Wednesday to set up a night final against a New Zealand lineup that overpowered 2016 silver medalist Britain 29-7, with captain Scott Curry and Regan Ware scoring two tries apiece.
The Argentines produced an inspired performance in the quarterfinals to upset 2016 bronze medalist South Africa. They were down 12-0 early against Fiji but rallied again to take a 14-12 halftime lead with Santiago Mare’s wobbly sideline conversion.
Unflustered, the Fijians hit the front with five minutes remaining when Jiuta Wainiqolo scored out wide. And when Semi Radradra stood up his defender and strolled to the tryline to help extend the margin to 12 points, chants of “Go, Fiji, Go!” went up from a small group on the bench in an otherwise quiet, empty stadium.
“I’m getting used to this now,” said Radradra, who has played at test level in rugby union and rugby league. “We started slow in our first two games, we finally got everything back last night.
“Playing New Zealand is tough (but) we’re going to try to stick in our system, our own way.”
In 2016, when rugby sevens made its Olympic debut, Fiji beat New Zealand in the quarterfinals to deprive it of a medal. The Fijians sealed their country’s first-ever gold medal with a 43-7 win over Britain in the final five years ago, and still haven’t lost a game in Olympic competition.
Britain will now have to play Argentina for bronze.
The U.S. and South Africa will meet for the second time in two days, this time with fifth place on the line.
U.S. flyer Carlin Isles scored the opening and closing tries — the second in extra time — in a 21-14 win over Canada. South Africa led all the way in a 22-19 win over Australia, which will play Canada in the seventh-place playoff.
The South Africans, bronze medalists in Rio, beat the U.S. men on Day 2 to finish atop Pool C but then lost to Argentina in the knockout stage despite having a one-player advantage. The Americans let a 21-point lead slip in a 26-21 loss to Britain in the quarterfinals.
The classification for 9th-12th is complete, with Kenya beating Ireland 22-0 for 9th and 2016 semifinalist Japan finally getting a win to finish off a disappointing campaign at the Tokyo Games — albeit on the last day and to avoid last place with a 31-19 comeback over arch rival South Korea.
Japan kicked off the Olympic tournament against Fiji, hitting the lead before conceding two late tries in a rematch of their 2016 semifinal.
Winger Lote Tuqiri, a star in 2016 when the Japanese team opened with a stunning upset over New Zealand, said the ban on spectators deprived Japan of a home-ground advantage. The competition draw didn’t help, either, with Japan losing to Fiji and Britain on Day 1.
“Seems like we played our final in the first game,” he said. “We just gave it our best. The win was there in front of us. We just gave it all.”
More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports