Fiji mount stunning comeback against Wales to win 14th Hong Kong Sevens
Kolinisau inspires stunning comeback by mighty Pacific islanders, who wipe out huge half-time deficit to claim their 14th title in city
Osea Kolinisau gave up his studies to play rugby full-time. Yesterday all of Fiji were thanking their lucky stars as Kolinisau sparked a stirring second-half comeback to give his country another Cup championship at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Fiji overcame a 19-0 half-time deficit to pull off a rousing 26-19 win, which even sevens legend Waisale Serevi, watching proudly in the stands, declared "brilliant".
"Ten minutes is a lot of time in sevens rugby and I had faith and belief in the guys," said hero Kolinisau. "I was just on hand to complete the good work done by the rest."
A team who thrive on confidence, Fiji looked out of sorts after Jasa Veremalua, one of the nine newcomers to Hong Kong, set the tone by knocking on with the try-line in sight. It seemed to dent their poise and mistakes allowed Wales, appearing for the first time in a world series Cup final, to take advantage.
Wales ran hard at them and leading the charge was Cardiff Blues centre Cory Allen. His turn of foot left Fiji flatfooted and flat in spirit as he grabbed a brace of tries. A third try from Alex Webber ballooned the lead to 19-0 and at the break it looked as if the Hong Kong Sevens might have only its third winner from the Northern Hemisphere - following England and Andy Ripley's Barbarians.
But an inspired move by coach Alivereti Dere to bring on Kolinisau after the break paid dividends. The 25-year-old from the island of Lau gave Wales a taste of their own medicine, running straight and hard to get the Fijian juggernaut back on track.
"We were over-anxious and looked unsettled in the first half. I told the boys to settle down and to remember the game plan. They found their rhythm and Osea did the rest. He was magnificent," Dere said.
Two tries from the super-sub in the first three minutes of the second half cut the deficit to five points. Then Samisono Viriviri outsprinted the Welsh cover to score by the corner flag to level the scores.
With a couple of minutes left on the clock, Wales got a second chance but Richard Smith knocked on to the chagrin of their fans, including the all-male Welsh choir which had sung the country's national anthem at the outset.
The script was tailor-made for Kolinisau to complete the thrilling comeback and he didn't disappoint as he barrelled over for his hat-trick with most of the capacity crowd screaming him on.
"I'm gutted," said two-try Allen. "We would have loved to have won this tournament and it was a great effort from the lads but in the end it wasn't enough."
Wales coach Paul John added: "We knew we hadn't won it at half-time. We were up against one of the best sides in the world and we knew they were more than capable of scoring three tries in three minutes. We knew they would come back."
It was Fiji's 14th Cup victory in Hong Kong (including two World Cup titles in 1997 and 2005) and it earned them a winners' purse of US$100,000. The team will receive US$75,000 with the rest going to the Fiji Rugby Union.
Fiji defeated New Zealand 33-14 in the semi-final, once again coming from behind, and Australia 29-5 in the quarters. Wales knocked out Canada (28-14 in the quarter-finals) and Kenya (19-0 in the semis).
"It couldn't get better than that," said Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory.
Fiji were not the only team celebrating yesterday. Russia, Georgia, Tonga and Zimbabwe also kept alive their hopes of becoming core teams when they each won a berth at the London Sevens qualification tournament in May. They will be joined by Hong Kong - automatic qualifiers by virtue of being Asian sevens champions - who rose to the occasion with an excellent last-day performance to knock over two core teams, Argentina and the United States, and storm into the Bowl final.
But at the end of another hugely successful Hong Kong Sevens, the last team standing were Fiji. They cried tears of emotion when the national anthem was sung before the game. At the end they were crying in joy.