12th Apr 2016

In a pulsating climax to the three-day Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2016, Fiji defeated New Zealand in the Cup final after South Africa had outplayed Australia to secure third place.The Plate was won by England, Argentina became Bowl champions, and Russia now hold the Shield.

Japan beat a resurgent Hong Kong to win the Qualifier and will rejoin the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series next season.

Fiji and New Zealand reprised last year’s Cup final line-up, the 14th time the two sides have met in Hong Kong.Favourites once again, Fiji had eliminated Kenya (12-10) and Australia (34-5) in the process, hitting their stride when it mattered.

New Zealand faced a tougher route to the final, especially an enervating semi-final against South Africa that took 10 minutes’ extra time to decide the winner – expended effort that came back to hamper New Zealand in the finale with both teams stretched to the limit by the three-day competition.

In the final, thrusting play by both sides rewarded first New Zealand as Pita Ahki crossed the line for a 7-0 lead, and then Fiji, when Jerry Tuwai showed nifty footwork to even it up at 7-7 right before half-time.In the second half, when New Zealand’s energy levels apparently dropped a notch, the Fijians were ready to press their physical game, laced with signature speed and flair.

Kitione Taliga, the winner of the Beth Coalter Trophy for Newcomer of the Year at the Hong Kong Sevens, flashed in under the posts for a try and the lead. Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau won the Leslie Williams Award for the Best & Fairest Player of the 2016 Hong Kong Sevens.

The response from New Zealand was full on but a turnaround was followed by some fast Fijian hands that set Semi Kunatani free to cross again for a 21-7 win – Fiji’s second Cup success over their southern hemisphere rivals in two years at the sold-out Hong Kong Stadium– to lift the silverware ahead of Sevens’ debut as an Olympic sport in the summer.

South Africa took on Australia in the third-place playoff and led 14-7 after 10 minutes’ play.Although Australia closed the gap to 12-14 in a stronger second-half performance, South Africa were able to hold on to secure third place in the Hong Kong Sevens for a second consecutive time.

Fiji’s victory in Hong Kong extends their lead at the top of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings with 128 points, while New Zealand (now on 123 points) leapfrogged South Africa (now 122 points) into second place.

The Plate final between the United States and England was expected to be close, as both teams had topped their groups to qualify for the Cup quarter-finals.After smooth wins in the semis, as the United States beat Wales 27-0 and England eliminated Kenya by 33-0, the final was less of battle, as England scored three tries and kept a clean sheet to beat the United States by 19 points and lift the silverware.

The Bowl final was won by Argentina, who outplayed Scotland with two tries in each half (26-0). Meanwhile, in a hard-foughtShield final, Russia managed to twice come back from behind against Canada, keeping the scores level at the end of regulation time, and then went on to score the tiebreaking try in extra time to win 19-14.

The final of the World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier 2016 was held earlier in the day, followed especially closely by expectant home fans.

Hong Kong, who had eliminated Germany in the semi-final after their earlier win against Spain, took on long-time nemesis Japan.

As at the Asia Rugby Sevens Qualifier last November, the home team found it hard to contain Tongan-born Japanese star Lomano Lemeki, who scored twice to grab a 12-point advantage. But Hong Kong were always competitive, and came together with a fine attack that let Alex McQueen dash from midfield down the left wing, only to be stopped just before the line. In the remaining minutes of the first half, Hong Kong pressed for an interception from which to launch a counterattack, and finally got what they were looking for when Salom Yiu Kam Shing broke down the middle for a try to leave Hong Kong trailing 7-12 at the break.

On the restart, Hong Kong took the initiative immediately.Alex McQueen scored with a kick-and-chase try to give the home team a 14-12 lead.But Japan were unflustered and took advantage of their physical strength, probing for weaknesses in the Hong Kong defence, until they finally found the gaps they were looking for as Lote Tuqiri and Lomano Lemeki ran in a try apiece, giving Lemeki a hat-trick on the night, to beat Hong Kong 24-14.

Japan will return to next season’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, after missing out this year after they were relegated at the end of the 2014/15 season.