• Fiji 43-7 Great Britain
• Silver medallists routed by seven tries to one
When it comes to running Olympic rings around everyone else there has never been a dream team like Fiji’s glorious rugby men. This has already been a momentous week for the sport of union, perhaps its most significant in history in terms of attracting new fans, and there could be no more inspirational champions. Fiji’s long wait for a gold medal is over and the celebrations in the Pacific islands will last for months, if not longer.
For GB’s gallant silver medallists there can be no disgrace in losing against a squad of such athletic, powerful genius. Simon Amor’s players will return home with their own rich haul of Brazilian memories, having beaten New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa en route to a final few expected them to reach. When it came to the final, though, they found themselves confronting opponents who, in every respect, were several classes apart.
All too often it was gallant red men against rampaging white giants. How ironic, then, that the master coach who has brought order and rigour to the Harlem Globetrotters creative chaos is an Englishman. Ben Ryan fetched up in Fiji only after becoming disillusioned with Twickenham politics and being repeatedly overlooked for the Premiership club jobs his intelligence and ability should have demanded. When they make the feelgood Hollywood movie about Fiji’s golden generation, as they probably should, the role played by the flame-haired Ryan will be key. Damian Lewis should keep his phone on.
As with Australia in the women’s final, Fiji also saved their best until last. There were five galloping tries in the first half alone, the traffic entirely one way. The only time GB made it into their opponents’ half, unfortunate to report, was during the pre-match anthems. In sevens the scoring team kick off again and even the repeated restarts seemed to mostly end up in Fijian paws.
It helps to some extent that the Gilbert ball used in sevens is designed slightly differently to the 15-a-side version. Extra pimples, according to the manufacturer, make it a bit easier to catch but harder to kick accurately. This may just explain GB’s and Argentina’s drop-goal issues in the quarter-final but when a Fijian is holding it a different type of physics seems to apply. In terms of offloads – front, back, reverse, overhead – there is no more sublime team on the planet, in sevens or 15s, when they are in the mood. Occasionally they do something ridiculously daft but the overall effect is frequently stunning.
Josua Tuisova, among the standout players of the tournament, is a 21-year-old force of nature but it was no coincidence the massively impressive Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau scored his side’s opening try. “He’s an incredible role model,” Ryan said beforehand. “He’s teetotal and religious but in my first tournament in charge the selectors told me not to pick him because he was a troublemaker. I wouldn’t have been able to survive the three years I’ve had in Fiji without him.”
In truth, though, Ryan has had untold riches at his disposal. Fiji had shown signs of genuine intent in the semi-final when they brushed aside Japan 20-5 but Ryan, who is now stepping down with his mission accomplished, had made it clear that anything less than gold would be unacceptable. He also insisted his side would relish the pressure because it brought the best out of them, and so it proved. By the time the former Glasgow lock Leone Nakarawa had stormed away for his team’s fourth try the outcome was long since settled, with the ever-present Semi Kunatani instrumental at least half of Fiji’s seven touchdowns.
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Dan Norton, outstanding en route to the final along with James Davies, Dan Bibby and Tom Mitchell, did manage one consolation score, converted by Marcus Watson, but the only numbers that really mattered were Fijian ones. This result is a massive deal for a country shattered by tropical cyclone Winston in February, which killed 44 people and caused millions of pounds in damage; experts estimate the economy will now benefit to the tune of 500 million Fiji dollars (£161 million) in additional tourism and investment revenue generated by more people wanting to visit the place where rugby magic happens.
This has also been a big week for everyone with a stake in rugby’s future global health. Japan, 500-1 outsiders for the title before the Games, could not quite claim a bronze medal, losing 54-14 against South Africa in the medal playoff, but there is now guaranteed to be a clamour for tickets when the Olympics come to Tokyo in 2020, the year after Japan are also due to host the next 15-a-side Rugby World Cup.
Bill Beaumont, the World Rugby chairman, is also optimistic that the IOC will already be tempted to confirm sevens as a core sport beyond 2020 at its next general assembly in Lima next October. “Nobody in World Rugby is conceited enough to think we have a divine right to be here but hopefully we have earned the right to be a permanent sport. All the people I have spoken to have been nothing but encouraging. To be a part of it is just fantastic. In rugby you tend to think you know it all. Then you come to events that are far bigger than anything we normally stage.”
Vatemo Ravouvou breaks through to score one of Fiji’s seven tries.
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Vatemo Ravouvou breaks through to score one of Fiji’s seven tries. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian
Any IOC member who imagines the Games would be better off without Fiji’s rugby team, in particular, needs his or her head examining. We do not know yet whether sevens, like cricket’s Twenty20, will start to steal the thunder of 15s but it is a fair bet that, around the world this week, a good deal more kids will be practising their offloads.
“The boys were on another scale of phenomenal, they were brilliant,” the estimable Ryan said. “The game has changed ridiculously ... it is expanding at a phenomenal rate.” Good luck to all those hoping to catch Fiji’s supermen any time soon.
Fiji: Veremalua, Kunatani, Nakarawa, Kolinisau (capt), Tuwai, Viriviri, Ravouvou. Replacements: Domolailai. Mata, Taliga, Tuisova, Dakuwaqa.
Tries: Kolinisau, Tuwai, Veremalua 2, Nakarawa, Ravouvou, Mata. Conversions: Kolinisau 2, Ravouvou, Taliga.
Great Britain: Burgess, Rodwell, Davies, Norton, Mitchell (capt), Bibby, Bennett. Replacements: Robertson, McConnochie, Lindsay-Hague, Cross, Watson.
Try: Norton. Conversion: Watson.
Referee R Rasivhenge (South Africa). Att 13,000.