Fiji edges Samoa in Hong Kong 7s matchup of ex-champions

HONG KONG (AP) — Fiji held out Samoa 12-7 in the only first-day matchup of former champions at the Hong Kong Sevens on Friday.

The kings of Hong Kong, the Fijians have appeared in the last six finals, including in November, when the crown jewel in the sevens world series returned for the first time since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The November event was muzzled by restrictions on crowd size, and masks and vaccinations were required. But restrictions were lifted this month and only a daytime drizzle put a dampener on Friday's action.

Fiji was hard-pressed to contain Samoa in their pool match compared to the convincing way it won their semifinal in November.

Josese Batirerega's bulldoze to the posts set up Fiji's first try by Joseva Talacolo with Waisea Nacuqu's conversion.

But Fiji barely held the 7-0 lead to halftime, as Pilipo Bukayaro stopped a break by Samoa's Steve Onosai, and Manueli Maisamoa prevented Paul Eti Slater from offloading in the left corner.

Samoa continued to threaten after halftime. But Paul Scanlan's last pass was forward, and Taunuu Niulevaea was tackled into touch in the corner by Ponepati Loganimasi.

Fiji then broke out from its 22 through Tevita Daugunu and Bukayaro scored for 12-0 with four minutes to go.

Samoa wasn't fazed.

Vaa Apelu Maliko's dribble and scoop finished with Neueli Leitufia scoring under three Fijians, and the gap closed to five.

Samoa's hopes finally ended when a pass to Maliko on the Fiji 22 was ruled forward.

South Africa, which has never won Hong Kong, won its opener against Ireland 14-7. The match was tied until a minute to go when Zain Davids got on the outside of the cramped Irish defense and scored. Ricardo Duarttee made the sideline conversion in a key win in a pool with series leader New Zealand.

The first appearance by women in Hong Kong's 47-year history was marked by Australia and the United States qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, joining series leader New Zealand and host France.

Australia and the U.S. fulfilled the requirement to reach the quarterfinals, but both had nervy finishes to their second pool wins.

The Australians steamrolled an Ireland scrum put-in to regain possession in the last seconds and win 19-12, and the U.S. scored a last-seconds converted try to edge Japan 26-17.


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