Fiji storm back to lift cup
WAISALE SEREVII and his Fijian flyers came from behind to lift the World Cup Sevens trophy in Hong Kong yesterday with a fighting 24-21 win over South Africa.
The uncrowned kings of the sevens made the title official after conceding two converted tries inside four minutes to the world 15-a-side champions. But it was the South Africans who were left shaking their heads after their tactic of taming Serevi almost paid off.
They totally shackled the Fijian - fly half and skipper, who scored 117 points (nine tries, 36 conversions) in seven games. But they forgot about Marika Vunikaba, a barnstorming 6ft 2in 22 year old, who scored his tournament best 12th try in the final and set up another.
Free State forward Andre Venter scored two storming tries on the left wing which were converted by Stephen Brink to put South Africa 14-0 up.
But Fiji, who had two army physical education instructors putting them through their paces before the World Cup stormed back.
Serevi said he ordered his players to calm their game and get a try to cut the arrears before the break. And Fiji came back through Mariak Vunibaka who outpaced Jacques Olivier wide on the right and ran around under the posts.
Serevi, who converted, meanwhile, was making no headway, his goosesteps and jinks were read perfectly by the South Africans who allowed him to run down blind alleys without posing a threat.
Two minutes into the second 10 minute half, Luke Erenavula took an overhead pass after a four man move and scoring between the sticks to level the score 14-14.
Vunibaka made a powerful surge across the field, which ended with a tackle just short of the line. But Lemeki Koroi followed up to dive over for the first of two tries in two minutes that turned the game.
Serevi at last showed some of his, genius. The 28 year old fly half, who has never made an impact at the 15 man game, checked and flung a lofted pass infield to three teammates who exploited the overlap for their deciding try.
South Africa, who beat France 19-14 in the quarter finals and New Zealand 31-7 in the semis in the shock of the tournament, had run out of time.
Serevi said Fiji were "the strongest team physically, mentally and spiritually".
Serevi, who is based in Japan, said the first World Cup four years ago had been too cold for his side: "Even the New Zealanders were complaining about it. We don't have a winter season.
Fiji have won a record seven Hong Kong Sevens tournaments but the skipper added: "I told the boys this would be a different tournament from the normal Hong Kong Sevens."
"We were not worried about any other team. We respect every team, but our aim is to play better each time."
After Fiji last won the Hong Kong Sevens in 1992 a one day national holiday was declared. Serevi said there would be "a month" of celebrations after this famous win.
He also expected a major boost to Fiji's ambitions to become a 15-aside power. "Fiji is not in the world 155 rankings. This will be a big thing for us."
South African skipper Joost van der Westhuizen was bitterly disappointed at the defeat after his side had emphatically beaten New Zealand in the semi final.
"We have been the underdogs throughout and we have benefitted from that," said van der Westhuizen, who ended the match with a cut on the side of his head. "We tried our best but they were better, you cannot escape that."