Australia

Fiji trashes Australian rugby sevens’ golden hopes

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Australia’s rugby sevens’ golden glow has been shattered in a 14-12 quarter-final loss to Fiji that brought their Olympic title defence to a heartbreaking halt.

Champions in the sport’s Olympic debut in Brazil five years ago, Australia’s women had started their Tokyo campaign with such promise with rousing back-to-back wins on Thursday.

But by Friday night they were on their haunches shedding tears, 14-12 losses to the United States and then Fiji relegating them to fifth at best.

“It was really hard. It was one of the hardest games of sevens I’ve ever played,” Charlotte Caslick said.

“They (Fiji) were really, really awesome. We shifted that momentum but we just didn’t have enough time.”

“I can’t even remember what I felt like in the tunnel at Rio, but I really f***ing know I’m going to remember that.

“It’s the other end of the spectrum. It hurts.

“But it’s only three years until Paris (2024 Games) … I know Rio fuelled New Zealand (who Australia beat in the 2016 final) for this.”

Daunting deficit

Fiji’s Alowesi Nakoci and Ana Maria Naisami both scored in the first half as costly mistakes robbed Australia of possession in the do-or-die quarter-final.

Faith Nathan finally crossed after Fiji were yellow carded to leave the favourites down 14-5 at halftime.

Australia steadied in the second half but couldn’t break Fiji’s line, Caslick stopped just short and then dispossessed in a crucial play.

Madison Ashby put Caslick through a gap inside the final minute, the playmaker’s try moving them within distance of an after-the-siren win.

But they couldn’t regain possession from the restart – the absence of injured kicker Chloe Dalton again coming back to bite them – as Fiji moved into the final four.

Australia won the 2017-18 world title to follow their groundbreaking Olympic success, but arrived in Japan clear underdogs behind New Zealand.

Sharp victories against Japan (48-0) and China (26-10) were impressive but they were found out against the bigger-bodied United States and again left without an answer by the stoic Fijians.

To fall short of the medal round will sting John Manenti’s side, while the men’s seventh place finish rubs salt into the wounds of their national sevens program.

It was pure joy for Fiji’s women though, now just a win away from claiming the country’s first female Olympic medal and third in total behind the men’s emotional 2016 and 2021 rugby sevens victories.

“Our thoughts are back at home for our families, not saying goodbye to them, training for five months and not even seeing them,” captain Rusila Nagasau said.

“It’s all about the nation. The nation sent us here to come and do a job, not just for us and our families, but for the country.

“It is a big thing for us to be the first women in Fiji to win a gold medal – that is our aim right now, to make history.”

-AAP



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