Australia and Fijiana book spots to Rio Olympic Games

The Australian Men’s team and Fiji Women’s teams booked their tickets to the Rio Olympics in style by winning the Oceania Rugby Sevens Olympic Qualifier at the Waitakere Trust Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand.

The two day tournament which brought together the best sevens players from the West Pacific region to compete for that spot reserved for the Oceania teams. While Australia defeated Tonga 50-0 in the men’s final, the Fijiana side walloped Samoa 55-0. Congratulations to Australia and Fijiana on their fantastic victories that will see them both in Brazil come August 2015.

The Ed Jenkins led Thunderbolts side was a class act from the get-go yesterday, brushing aside all their opponents in gorgeous style all the way to the final. In another class altogether, full of adventure and the experience from the World Sevens Series which the other teams lacked.

As expected the Samoans and Tongans were a continual threat but not enough to match the Australians class and speed, and the biggest upset in the 2015 Men’s Competition came in the semi-finals where the motivated Tongan side, with the services of World Cup representatives Jack Ram and former All Blacks Sevens star Nafi Tuitavake, absolutely thrashed the much fancied Samoa Damian McGrath coached team. With Falemiga Selesele leading Manu Samoa, they were beaten 41-5 in a result that nearly broke the hearts of many watching from the stands.

The Samoans came into the tournament with high hopes and hoping for a good start to their World Series 2015-16 season with both a new coach and a new attitude, but the Tongans had other ideas. In the heat of battle and they managed to reach the final. Both teams though will join other International sides in a last qualifying tournament, later in June for a last spot in Rio.

I said that “barring upsets, the Qantas Australian Men’s Seven team and The Telecom Fiji Women’s teams are top bets to win this weekends Oceania Rugby Sevens Olympic Qualifier at The Trusts Stadium. In the end, the men were all too powerful, too well motivated and recently, well prepared.

The Australians are looking for a new Head Coach but it will be hard to look past their ‘Interim Coach’ Tim Walsh who orchestrated their win today. That followed on from the Central Coast Sevens title and they should now build from these victories. In each tournament, they played with more vigor and determination, something other leading teams in the World Sevens Series should be weary off.

Their combinations worked really well over the last two days, there was a lot of respect for the opposition and no individual play, which is a key ingredient of a great team. Even though the opposition was not as tough as they are used to, the Aussie 7’s stuck to their game plan, they played to their structures and utilized the spaces well with men like Cam Clark, Tom Cusack, the impressive Pama Fou, Greg Jeloudev and of course ‘captain fantastic’ Jenkins.

Using their experience as much as their power to shut down their minnow opponents in most games played here, the Aussies have unleashed a new star carrying on from where he left at the CC Sevens where he was Player Of The Tournament. 18 year old rookie Henry Hutchison is a superb prospect, with a good eye for space, speed to burn, an eye for the try-line and aggressive at the breakdown. He is the ‘real deal’ and the one to watch at the upcoming Dubai 7s in December.

Men’s Quarter-Finals: Tonga 47 Solomon Islands 0, Samoa 59 Nauru 0, PNG 19 Cook Islands 7, Australia 52 American Samoa 0

Men’s Semi-finals: Tonga 41 Samoa 5, Australia 36 PNG 0

Men’s Final Standings:

  • 7/8th – American Samoa 33 Nauru 12
  • 5/6th – Cook Islands 17 Solomon Islands 14
  • 3/4th – Samoa 54 PNG 0 (Samoa qualify to the final repechage to be scheduled in June)

Final: Australia 50 Tonga 0  (Tonga qualify to the final repechage to be scheduled in June)

In the Women’s competition, you can look no further then the Fijiana team for pure supremacy. They showed real class in the two day tournament, as they displayed good clean rugby and a ‘big step up’ from what they gave at the Central Coast Sevens a fortnight ago.

Is it the English influence or Fijian passion??

With vision and precise play, speed and aggressiveness, in their hunger and commitment the Fijiana ladies put together a well rounded effort. Credit must be due to the ‘English connection’ in Director of Sevens Rugby for Fiji Ben Ryan and his selected Women’s coaching Director Chris Cracknell in now fine tuning a rusty outfit to be a more competitive side–something every Fijian will be proud of today. Our passion is still there, and the new influence is just what Fiji Rugby fans have asked for.

They, together with Head Coach Iliesa Tanivula, have put together a winning formula. The crucial inclusion of former Aussie Pearl Rebecca Tavo has been immense for the results as her slick distribution and eye for gaps is fantastic. The strength and speed of Rusila Nagasau, the fighting spirits of Asinate Savu and Talica Vodo in the forwards is admirable. The slick footwork and speed of Tima Ravisa that will bring some fond memories of the great Filimoni Delasau. That is all capped by the general link in Fiji’s ‘captain courageous’ Ana Maria Roqica who somehow will remind you of Fumiaki Tanaka of Japan [small in stature but with the heart of a true Warrior]

Roqicas led by example both in terms of leadership and in defence. This player held the group together and scored some beautiful tries herself over the two days, but the one standout player for most is ‘Woman Mountain’ Litia Naiqato. Just like another ‘Man Mountain’ in Semisi Naevo, Litia has speed, her height for that all-important restarts and those offloads that will put any male sevens player to shame. Her performance for Last Word On Sports, earns Naiqato the Player of the Tournament tag. She along with her team mates, was everywhere defensively and in attack.

Fijana were very slick both in defence and attack; either laterally or straight down the line and it’s just the beginning for this group.

Samoa had the services of Jerry Collins’ sisters Brenda and Helen Collins, in the final were no match for the victorious Fijians. The Samoans had the speed of Justine Luatua but not enough of it to stop the Fijian flair. One aspect that really stood out for Fiji was the wise use of the bench. Bringing in Lavenia Tinai at crucial moments for her kickoff, strength and speed. The selection of Brittany Coates for her work on the breakdown and the distribution and the speed of Luisa Tisolo will tell you that the management will be a side to watch in Dubai event coming up in the Women’s World Sevens Series.

Women’s Final standings:

  • 5th place – Tonga
  • 3rd/4th play off match – Cook Islands 32 PNG 0 (Cook Islands qualify to the final repechage to be scheduled in Monaco)

Cup final match: Fiji 55 Samoa 0  (Samoa qualify to the final repechage to be scheduled in Monaco)

Well done to both the winning sides, to the second and third placed nations who will join other Sevens nations from the Olympic family, to try to qualify for the final places at Rio de Janiero in August. It will be a tremendous event but over the weekend, fans from Auckland and all around the world have already brought into the Olympic dream–Gold will be on the line come August, and the two winning sides here may each have a place in that theater.

This reporter is certainly proud to think that Fijian and our Men’s team (who have already qualified) can shine a light on our proud nation. Bolea.

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WORLD RUGBY SEVENS SERIES begins with Round One in Dubai on 4th/5th December, 2016.

Follow all the Sevens Rugby action with our in-depth coverage on Last Word On Sports with Jovilisi Waqa.

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