Fiji’s men and New Zealand’s women were crowned Oceania Sevens champions on Sunday as the two teams finished the Tokyo 2020 warm-up tournament unbeaten.
Rio 2016 gold medallists Fiji look in good shape to defend their title at next month’s Olympic Games having won six out of six matches in the men’s competition in Townsville.
The Black Ferns Sevens, who won silver five years ago, also completed a clean sweep in the women’s tournament to put their rivals on notice ahead of Tokyo.
North Queensland Stadium played host to both tournaments between Friday and Sunday, with Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and two Oceania squads playing each other twice.
The men’s Olympic sevens tournament gets underway at Tokyo Stadium in just four weeks’ time, and on the evidence of last weekend, it will take a monumental effort to displace Fiji as champions.
Coach Gareth Baber used the Oceania Sevens to look at his squad depth, with inexperienced players including Sireli Maqala, Iosefo Masi, and Jiuta Wainiqolo catching the eye in Australia.
Masi scored two tries, either side of a Wainiqolo effort, as Fiji rounded off their tournament with an impressive 17-7 defeat of current Rugby World Cup Sevens and HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions, New Zealand, to confirm their title and complete a clean sweep.
“It’s the first time we have been in an international competition, [for] some 15 months, so I’m pleased with the level we are at,” Baber said.
“I’m also pleased with the intensity we bring to the game, we’ve still got a little bit more work to do physically and keeping ourselves with that mental battle we get in the game, but overall it has been a good outing.”
On the performance of Maqala, Masi and Wainiqolo in Townsville, the Fiji coach added: “They have really put their hands up for selection.
“They worked their socks off, they are diligent about the way they go about their work and they show it on the field.
“I’m pleased across the board, the players have worked hard and worked for each other.”
The All Blacks Sevens’ only defeats across the three days came at the hands of the reigning Olympic champions, with two victories out of two secured against Australia.
Hosts Australia won only one match in the men’s tournament, with their final-day meeting with Oceania cancelled, but coach Tim Walsh remained upbeat afterwards.
“You’re never losing, you’re learning,” he told AAP.
“From a selection point of view, game time against some great teams, we didn’t get the win(s), we came close and we’ll save it for the Olympics.”
On Monday, it was confirmed that antipodean rivals Australia and New Zealand would face each other again at Tokyo 2020 having been allocated to Pool A of the men’s tournament, alongside Argentina and Korea.
Inner belief builds for Black Ferns Sevens
New Zealand were the only unbeaten women’s side heading into the final day at North Queensland Stadium, and they maintained that run with a 27-12 defeat of Fiji.
The Black Ferns Sevens rounded off their Oceania Sevens campaign with a second match against Australia, the team that beat them in the goal medal match at Rio 2016.
Michaela Blyde struck first in the final match, but New Zealand were pegged back heading into half-time and led only 7-5 at the break.
That was as close as Australia would come, however, as Blyde added a second score before Ruby Tui and Stacey Fluhler put the seal on a 26-5 win.
“Our biggest thing is inner belief and players going out and expressing themselves,” Black Ferns Sevens co-coach Cory Sweeney said.
“By the end of the tournament, they were in a good flow and the girls were happy with good energy, which is a great outcome for us.”
Defeat to the Black Ferns’ Sevens was Australia’s second of the weekend, while the reigning Olympic champions were also beaten by Fiji on Saturday.
However, Australia women’s coach John Manenti insisted there were positives to take from his side’s work in Townsville, especially in their final match against the Black Ferns Sevens.
“I thought we stepped up across the park with our whole performance,” he said.
“We worked really hard and made them work hard for their tries… we asked a few questions to them and probably should have asked a couple more.
“But ultimately, I thought we were much better tonight than we have been against New Zealand for a little while.”