Fiji rallied from 12-7 down at halftime to beat reigning world champion New Zealand 26-12 in Sunday’s final of the Gold Coast Sevens, first leg of the International Rugby Board’s world series.
New Zealand had beaten Fiji 28-5 in pool play on Friday but the Fijians reversed that result, taking control in the second half to deliver an early success for new national coach Etuate Waqa.
Waqa recently replaced Iliesi Tanivula as Fiji national coach and had only weeks to prepare the Fiji team for the opening round of the 2011-2012 IRB world circuit. Fiji looked rusty in pool play and was well beaten by New Zealand in the last Pool A match on Friday but was more confident and commanding through Saturday’s playoffs.
The Fijians beat previously unbeaten Wales 33-5 in the quarterfinals, running in four second half tries after leading 7-5 at halftime. It then beat South Africa 24-7 in the semi-finals after leading 19-0 at halftime.
New Zealand was commanding in pool play, comfortably beating Kenya, Niue and Fiji. It carried that form into Saturday’s playoffs round, beating England 24-14 in the quarterfinals with Frank Halai scoring two of its four tries.
New Zealand beat hosts Australia 26-7 in the quarterfinals with the help of two first half tries to veteran Tomasi Cama.
Fiji’s win in the final gave it an early lead in the IRB world series with 22 points to New Zealand’s 19 under the new point system instituted on the eve of the Gold Coast tournament.
South Africa beat Australia 17-15 in the playoff for third and fourth and lies third on world standings with 17 points ahead of Australia with 15 and Wales with 13.
Wales beat Samoa 26-15 in the plate final and Argentina beat Scotland 17-14 in the bowl final.
Australia’s young side made a strong start to the world series, finishing second behind South Africa in Pool B but upsetting former world champion Samoa in the quarterfinals.
Captain Ed Jenkins said the 26-7 semi-final loss to New Zealand had shown his rookie team the standard it needed to achieve to be successful on the world circuit.
“They [New Zealand] have probably been the benchmark over the last couple of years and they have been together for a long time,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got eight new players this year”.
“There are definitely positives to come out of [the tournament] and we can definitely improve.” — Sapa-AP