FIJIAN FESTIVAL

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2005, 12:00am

1997, Hong Kong


Hong Kong was a fitting venue for the second World Cup, the SAR's tournament having developed into the pre-eminent stop on the calendar over 21 eventful years.


Three nations qualified automatically - defending champions England, runners-up Australia and the hosts - while the 21 other participants were decided by three qualifying tournaments held in Lisbon, Dubai and Punta del Este, Argentina.


Among the tournament qualifiers were four RWC first-timers - the Cook Islands, Portugal, Morocco and Zimbabwe.


Teams were divided into eight pools of three with England, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, France, Spain, South Africa and Samoa emerging as the winners on the first day. The 24 nations were then redrawn into eight new pools for the ranking round on day two with the winners progressing to the Melrose Cup quarter-finals, the runners-up to the plate competition and the remainder to the bowl.


Seven of these eight pools were topped by unbeaten teams, the exception being Pool G which witnessed a 12-12 draw between Spain and Korea and was decided in the latter's favour on points difference. Favourites Fiji had been most impressive, not conceding a point in reaching the cup quarter-finals and scoring 205 in accounting for Portugal, Hong Kong, Namibia and Wales.


At the heart of Fiji's progression was their captain Waisale Serevi, the sevens maestro, who scored 26 points in their 56-0 quarter-final win over South Korea. Samoa were their next opponents, having ended England's hold on the trophy with a 21-5 win, while the other semi pitted South Africa against New Zealand after they overcame France and Australia.


South Africa, inspired by captain Joost van der Westhuizen, ended New Zealand's hopes with a 31-7 defeat, while Samoa became the first nation to score against Fiji but still lost 38-14.


The Melrose Cup final had the 40,000 crowd at Hong Kong Stadium on the edge of their seats before Fiji - again orchestrated by the peerless Serevi - emerged as 24-21 victors. Hong Kong went down to Tonga 40-19 in the plate final and the United States trumped Japan 40-28 to win the bowl.