NEW ZEALAND WINS RUGBY SEVENS GOLD
KUALA LUMPUR, 14 Sept 98 (Bernama):
BY Ian Telford
The Kiwis, who lost an unprecedented five successive rugby Tests this season, ran in three tries to two to devastate the Fijians, who had been odds-on favourite to win the gold.
As it was, they could only deliver a silver medal performance to their Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka who watched from the stands.
Back home, where almost the entire nation was glued to television in the early hours for the final, the defeat was certainly a bitter disappointment.
Australia had the consolation of the bronze medal when it beat another Pacific island team, Samoa, 33-12 in the third place play-off.
The Aussies were acutely disappointed at missing out on the final, but their bronze medal was a fitting tribute to their incomparable winger David Campese who played in a Autralian jersey for the last time.
Campese, the most honoured player in the history of the game who played 101 Tests, announced his retirement from all international rugby.
But it was New Zealand that earned all the accolades showered on them tonight, especially their blockbusting winger Jonah Lomu, unquestionably the player of the tournament.
He smashed through defences like a giant battering ram in both New Zealand's 38-14 quarter final win over Wales and a heart-stopping 19-14 semi-final win over Samoa.
New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjiens described it as a great emotional victory.
"It feels excellent -- we always knew playing Fiji was going to be tough, but we had nothing to lose and we knew we could do something special," he said.
Asked about Lomu's contribution -- he also had a barnstorming final -- Tietjiens replied: "Yeh, but it was a great team effort." To reach the final, Fiji edged out a rugged Canada 26-19 and then disposed of Australia 28-14 in the semi-finals.
Fiji coach Ravonu Rupeni paid tribute to an outstanding Kiwi performance in the final. "They deserved to win as they played hard and played much better than us, although luck was not on our side," he said.
"We tried as hard as we could and I have no complaints about our performance.
"Our target was to win, but we will be back."
Despite Canada's courageous loss to Fiji, the quarter finals confirmed the southern hemisphere's domination over the northern hemisphere.
But there was a marked contrast in way the two British sides --Wales and England -- departed.
The Welsh, surprisingly committed after some inconsistent displays earlier in the tournament, showed tremendous spirit to restrict the rampant New Zealanders to a 38-14 result.
But a tackle-shy and badly organised England, one of the seeded teams, was humiliated 49-14 by the Australians, who piled on seven tries. Only a second touch down by the Englishmen in injury time lent the score a measure of respectability to the scoreline.
Earlier, Canada went within an ace of eliminating the previously invincible Fijians.
The man who almost pulled it off for them was their blisteringly fast left winger Fred Asselin who left the Fiji defence flat footed to grab a hat-trick of tries.
The Canadians led 19-14 with under two minutes to go, but the islanders regained their composure in the hectic closing seconds for skipper Serevi Waisale to clinch it with his second try in injury time.
South Africa, the reigning world and southern hemisphere Tri-Nations champion in 15-a-side rugby, showed in its 26-5 quarter-final loss to Samoa that it's still a relative Sevens novice.
They were out-thought and ultimately outplayed by a well-drilled Samoa which repeatedly exploited flaws in a brittle Springbok defence to run in four tries to one.
A strangely tentative New Zealand lived dangerously in its semi-final against the Samoans, one of the most disciplined yet creative teams in the tournament. The Samoans scored the only try of the first half and added another to lead 14-12 with a minute to go before the brilliant Cullen swept over for an all-important third New Zealand try to secure the Kiwis' berth in the final.
The big, fast Fijians had too much firepower for a young but extremely talented Australian side that appeared to succumb to the pressure.
The Fijians, calm and clinical again after their quarter-final scare against Canada, scored four tries -- two of them by skipper Serevi -- before Australia got on the board with a touch down by winger Matt Dowling, his ninth of the tournament, five minutes into the second half.
The Aussies got their act together in the closing minutes and were awarded a penalty try, but ran out of time. Also tonight, Cook Islands beat Papua New Guiinea 31-12 in the Plate final and the Bowl final, Bahamas beat Cayman Islands 48-17.