Fiji gave rugby sevens its perfect Olympic bow today by producing a scintillating final performance to sweep aside Britain 43-7 and claim their first gold medal in any sport.
Save for the gold medal match being more evenly contested, the day could hardly have gone better for the legions of World Rugby and International Olympic Committee officials who crowded onto the VIP benches to see their slice of the action.
Prospects of success for Fiji and other Pacific Islands had been one of the reason why rugby’s bid to be added the Games was successful – and the hundreds of fanatical fans who cheered their heroes on added to the appeal.
To say the team came roaring out of the traps in the final was an understatement.
Skipper Osea Kolinisau powered over in the left corner in the opening minute before Jerry Tuwai touched down under the posts moments later.
As the crowd cheered and sung, Britain found themselves marooned in their half and simply unable to cope with the speed, power and ferocity of their opponents.
Five more Fijian tries followed as the crowd cheered and sung, with Britain reduced to a solitary consolation courtesy of Dan Norton.
It was the perfect embodiment of those lofty Olympic values of unity and overcoming adversity, particularly because the nation is still basking in the shock of a cyclone this year which claimed 44 lives.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was watching in the stands today, and, so important was this competition to the nation, it was he who had formally announced the squad for the Games last month.
But English coach Ben Ryan must take the plaudits.
He may have inflicted a crushing defeat on his country but he has now written a chapter in Fijian folklore.
“I feel very lucky that I’m in charge of such an unbelievable group of athletes with a country behind us that’s so passionate about rugby sevens.,” Ryan, the former England sevens coach, said afterwards.
“I try to explain it to people that don’t go to Fiji or have never been and it’s impossible really.
“The boys are front page, back page [of] newspapers, six o’clock news.
“You come out of the airport and there’s a 20-foot billboard of them and that continues all the way through.
“It’s a passion, it’s the national sport.”
Fiji, who have competed at all but two Games since Melbourne 1956, became the second country to win their first ever Olympic medal here after Kosovo – who also claimed a gold.
Britain found tonight a match too far but can be proud after after pooling the collective resources of the home nations and over-achieving en route to the final.
South Africa, the team who Britain had outsted at the semi-final stage, swept past giantkillers Japan 54-14 to take bronze.
It was their first ever Olympic medal in a team sport.
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz