Fiji came to a standstill as its sevens rugby team gave a seven-try masterclass to Britain that secured the Pacific island’s first Olympic medal, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said.
The Fiji strongman ordered national celebrations over the 43-7 win led by captain Osea Kolinisau that stunned the Deodoro stadium with its severity.
“It’s an awesome feeling to be a Fijian right now,” Bainimarama said after watching the game.
“They played some awesome rugby. The coach and the players have worked at this day for months and they’ve done it.
“Nobody is at work, universities have been given time off and the Pacific Island Forum meeting has been postponed. Nobody has been at work for the last few days.
“We’re looking at putting a celebration together,” added the prime minister.
He hailed Fiji’s English coach Ben Ryan as “an icon back home.”
“We were an average team before he came in and he lifted the level. Everybody loves Ben.”
Ryan acclaimed his team’s gold as just reward for a country obsessed with rugby sevens.
“The island won’t be having parties in sporadic parts of country, it will be across the entire nation, 355 islands, and it will continue for some time,” he predicted.
“The boys are front page, back page news, 6 o’clock news, you come out of the airport there’s a 20-foot billboard of them and that continues all the way through (the country).
“They’re superstars in Fiji. I could have an hour’s drive to work and I’ll see 50 villages all playing one-touch rugby. It’s a passion, it’s a national sport.”
– ‘Never dreamt of being a gold medallist’ –
Fiji skipper Kolinisau said everything had gone to plan for the double defending World Sevens Series champions.
“I never dreamt of being an Olympian let alone being a medallist, let alone being a gold medallist,” the star playmaker said, adding that he hoped Ryan would stay on as coach.
“It’s a massive achievement to get a medal. Probably when we wake up tomorrow, it will dawn on us what we’ve achieved here.”
Fiji jetted out to a 29-0 lead after the opening 10 minutes, Kolinisau, Jerry Tuwai, Jasa Veremalua, Leone Nakarawa and Vatemo Ravouvou all scoring.
Josua Tuisova and Mata Viliame added to that tally in the second period with Dan Norton grabbing a consolation try for Britain.
“We wanted to stay on our feet, keep the ball alive and hit them hard,” Ryan said. Fiji targeted the “branches, not roots” of the British team to avoid being sucked into a contact game.
Britain joined the praise for the Pacific islanders.
Britain coach Simon Amor said Fiji’s gold was a great result for one of the most consistently exciting proponents of a sport making its Olympic debut. Fifteen a six rugby was played at the 1924 Games.
“It’s such a special team,” Amor said.
“It’s the first time sevens has been in the Olympics and it’s probably right that the team that plays such wonderful rugby gets that opportunity and gets that gold medal.
“They saved their very best until last: brilliant, breathtaking rugby.”
Britain captain Tom Mitchell added: “They’ve shown their pedigree on the World Series in the last couple of years and they’re very deserving of that gold medal today, they’ve been absolutely outstanding.” – Agence France-Presse