Fiji survive scare, Kerevi impresses in opening Olympics session
Fiji, Great Britain New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa and the USA all emerged victorious in the opening session of the first day of the men’s competition at Tokyo Stadium, but things weren’t as smooth sailing for some teams as might have expected.
Fiji were among those who scraped to victory in a tense 24-19 win over Japan in a match where the home side threatened to register an upset win over the Rio 2016 gold medallists.
Despite conceding in the opening passage of play after Jiuta Wainiqolo capitalised on a nervous start by Japan from the kick-off, the host nation hit back through skipper Chichito Matsui.
Wainiqolo looked set for a brace shortly afterwards, but a fumble of the ball as he tried to scoop it up allowed Matsui to counter and catch the Fijians out to get Japan on the board.
However, Japan were again let down by their inability to field the ball from the re-start, as Fiji regathered possession and strolled in to regain the lead via Iosefo Masi just moments after Matsui’s try.
A tense few minutes played out as the half-time siren approached, but some good patience and continuity by Japan enabled Lote Tuqiri, the cousin of his namesake and ex-Wallabies wing, to score in the final act of the first half.
Yoshikazu Fujita’s conversion handed the hosts a two-point lead at the break, which forced Fiji head coach Gareth Baber to thrust his star man Semi Radradra into the mix in the second half.
That didn’t stop Japan from scoring in the first act of the second stanza, though.
Fijian-born Kameli Raravou Latianara Soejima gave his homeland a taste of their own medicine by plucking the ball from the air from the kick-off to then shrug off three defenders and canter home from 40 metres out.
Ahead 19-12 with five minutes to play, a first-up upset over the reigning Olympic champions looked a real possibility for Japan, but a spillage on halfway by Kazushi Hano handed the ball to Waisea Nacuqu, who waltzed on in under the posts.
Ill-discipline at the breakdown then cost Japan as Nacuqu doubled his try-scoring tally from a quick break by Fiji down the middle of the field.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 24, 2021
Trailing by five points with a minute-and-a-half to play, Japan needed to come up with a big play to win the game, and they were aided in their efforts when Radradra was pinged for being offside from the re-start.
A deliberate knock on by Fiji after the ensuing scrum feed then saw Asaeli Tuivuaka sent to the sin bin, leaving his side undermanned for the remainder of the contest.
That counted for little, though, as Japan failed to strike from the ensuing penalty, with a knock on by Fiji’s Meli Derenalagi eventually bringing an end to the opening match of the Tokyo Olympics.
Similarly, the United States had to dig deep to secure a vital win over Kenya in the last match of the session, as a try to captain Madison Hughes in the final minute of the match ensured the Americans a 19-14 victory.
Prior to that, tries to Carlin Isles and Martin Iosefo of the USA, as well as scores to Kenyan players Collins Injera and Jeff Olouch, kept the scoreline tied deep into the second half.
Willie Ambaka appeared to have scored for Kenya to give them what may have been a match-winning try, but it was subsequently ruled out as a knock on thanks to some desperate covering defence.
As a result, the USA are now in a good position to qualify for the play-offs, provided they can defeat one of either South Africa or Ireland, who played each other in the other Group C match.
Given their lengthy absence from the World Sevens Series, the Irish weren’t expected to challenge the Blitzboks too much, but they provided a good fight in their 33-14 defeat.
South Africa’s Zain Davids stepped his way out of trouble to cross for the match’s opening try in the third minute, but Ireland were no slouches as they constantly put the South Africans on the back foot with some strong running and fleeting footwork.
However, the attacking class of the Blizboks was tough to handle for the men from the Emerald Isle, which was exemplified when Impi Visser fought his way over the tryline on the back of a delicately placed cross kick from Justin Geduld.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 24, 2021
The Irish persisted well, though, as Gavin Mullin crossed for a try deep into injury time in the first half to close the gap to seven points at the break.
South Africa bounced back in the opening stages of the second half, as Selvyn Davids utilised the cross kick to put Geduld over in the corner to give the Blitzboks some breathing room.
A lovely wrap play from the Irish shut that gap up shortly after the re-start, with Terry Kennedy finding himself in acres of space to score a well-taken try with little more than three minutes to play.
South Africa had a response for each of Ireland’s tries, though, as veteran Chris Dry dotted down in the corner before Selvyn Davids converted to re-establish a 14-point buffer.
A late try to Stedman Gans closed things out for South Africa as their bid for another podium finish after their bronze medal effort at Rio 2016 got off to the best possible start.
In Group B, meanwhile, ex-Wallabies midfielder Samu Kerevi impressed in his first foray in the Olympics as he came off the bench to almost salvage a result for Australia against Argentina.
It wasn’t to be, though, as despite Kerevi’s try and try assist in the final couple of minutes to bring the game to within five points, the Argentines pulled away with a game-sealing try to Lautaro Bazan Velez after the full-time siren.
Much of the damage had already been done in the first half, with the Australians falling off tackles and struggling at the re-start to allow Argentina to run in four unanswered first half tries.
Australia’s trans-Tasman and group rivals New Zealand had a much more fruitful start to their Olympic campaign as the All Blacks Sevens registered a 50-5 win over the Republic of Korea.
The scoreline looks more deceiving than how things actually panned out, though, as the South Koreans frustrated the Kiwis in the first half and almost levelled the scores when Yeon Sik Jeong cancelled out Andrew Knewstubb’s opening try.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 25, 2021
Tim Mikkelson’s try just on half-time gave New Zealand some breathing room, but two yellow cards thwarted South Korea’s chances of a sensational upset as William Warbrick, Etene Nanai-Seturo and Ngarohi McGarvery-Black all ran in tries to blow the score out.
Great Britain, meanwhile, overcame a slow start in the first half to dispatch Canada 24-0 to begin their bid to go one place better than their silver medal finish five years ago.
The second session of day one begins at 4:30pm on Monday local time, as Great Britain will play Japan, Fiji will play Canada, New Zealand will play Argentina, Australia will play South Korea, the USA will play Ireland and South Africa will play Kenya.
Fiji 24 (Tries to Jiuta Wainiqolo, Iosefo Masi, Waisea Naqucu (2); conversion to Napolioni Bolaca, conversion to Naqucu)
Japan 19 (Tries to Chichito Matsui, Lote Tuqiri, Kameli Raravou Latianara Soejima; 2 conversions to Yoshikazu Fujita)
Great Britain 24 (Tries to Dan Norton (2), Ross McCann, Robbie Ferguson; 2 conversions to Dan Bibby)
New Zealand 50 (Tries to Andrew Knewstubb, Tim Mikkelson (2), penalty try, William Warbrick (2), Etene Nanai-Seturo, Ngarohi McGarvery-Black; 2 conversions to Knewstubb, 2 conversions McGarvery-Black)
South Korea 5 (Try to Yeon Sik Jeong)
Argentina 29 (Tries to Lucio Cinti, Matias Osadczuk, Marcos Moneta, Ignacio Mendy, Lautaro Bazan Velez; 2 conversions to Santiago Mare)
Australia 19 (Tries to Josh Turner (2), Samu Kerevi; 2 conversions to Maurice Longbottom)
South Africa 33 (Tries to Zain Davids, Impi Visser, Justin Geduld, Chris Dry, Stedman Gans; 4 conversions to Selvyn Davids)
Ireland 14 (Tries to Gavin Mullin, Terry Kennedy; 2 conversions to Billy Dardis)
USA 19 (Tries to Carlin Isles, Martin Iosefo, Madison Hughes; conversion to Steve Tomasin, conversion to Hughes)
Kenya 14 (Tries to Collins Injera, Jeff Olouch; 2 conversions to Eden Agero)
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