SYDNEY, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Olympic champions Fiji clicked into top gear for the first time this season to win the Sydney Sevens in trademark style on Sunday, kickstarting their campaign less than six months before they defend their gold medal in Tokyo.
World Sevens Series champions last year, the Flying Fijians had underwhelmed in the first three rounds with one fourth and two ninth-placed finishes but appeared rejuvenated on a steamy Sydney weekend.
They beat New Zealand, the series leaders and winners of the previous two rounds, 26-5 on Saturday and hammered Wales 55-0 to round out the group stage before holding off England 17-14 in the semi-finals despite being reduced to five men at one point.
Roared on by a good proportion of the local Fijian community in a Western Sydney Stadium cooled by an evening storm, the Pacific islanders tore into the South Africa’s BlitzBokke from the start of the final.
They did not have it all their own way, but dynamic 23-year-old Napolioni Bolaca scored two tries to see them home 12-10 in a tight contest where they showcased both brilliant running and rugged defence.
“Before we entered the field, my message was to come out and enjoy it and do the job,” said Fiji skipper Meli Derenalagi.
“I want to thank the soldiers behind me for the great effort they showed today.”
Women’s Olympic champions Australia are in a less favourable position ahead of their gold medal defence in Tokyo with no tournament wins in two years on the world circuit.
They looked in fine form on Saturday when Charlotte Caslick, back in the side for the first time this year after recovering from injury, scored five tries and set up a couple of others in big wins over Spain and Ireland.
They were outmuscled 34-0 by a physical Canada side in Sunday’s semi-finals, however, and watched on as a rampant New Zealand locked up the title for a fourth straight round of the series with a 33-7 victory over the Canucks in the final.
New Zealand’s Black Ferns have been all but unstoppable since their loss to Australian in the final at the Rio Olympics and have standout Portia Woodman still to return the mix after a long-term Achilles injury.
Their win in Sunday’s was a 19th in a row and, on this form, they will head to Tokyo as strong favourites to finally clinch their country a rugby sevens gold medal on August 1.
“We’ve been working pretty hard to go back-to-back and do it twice this season is just massive, I’m just so happy right now,” said captain Sarah Hirini.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Pritha Sarkar
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