New Zealand Sevens exit Rio Olympics in quarterfinals

By Peter White

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KEY MOMENT: New Zealand's Tim Mikkelson, centre, and Rieko Ioane, right, appeal Ioane's yellow card in the quarterfinal loss to Fiji. PHOTO/photosport 110816sp22BOP
KEY MOMENT: New Zealand's Tim Mikkelson, centre, and Rieko Ioane, right, appeal Ioane's yellow card in the quarterfinal loss to Fiji. PHOTO/photosport 110816sp22BOP

The New Zealand Sevens team's Olympic aspirations were crushed by Fiji in Rio yesterday morning.

What shocked the rugby world and left coach Sir Gordon Tietjens and his squad shattered, is not so much the result but that it happened in the quarterfinals rather than the play-off for the gold medal.

In pool play New Zealand had lost to Japan and Great Britain with only a solitary win over Kenya to just qualify in eighth place.

Meeting favourites Fiji was the worst possible scenario and in slippery, wet conditions the Kiwis struggled to get their hands on the ball against the well-organised Fijians.

There was a moment of individual brilliance from Gillies Kaka to put his team up 7-5 but once Fiji went ahead 12-7 it looked beyond the Kiwis and so it proved.

Fiji under astute coach Ben Ryan did their due diligence on the New Zealander's strengths out wide and purposely played a slower game than normal with ball retention the key.

Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau says he knew it would be tough against New Zealand.

"I told the boys even though they had lost twice they made the quarter-finals and they have such standards and are a world class team.

"We studied the New Zealand game and we knew their strength was outside and they turn over a lot of ball on the outside so we told ourselves we needed to keep away from the rucks."

Blaming the referee after losing a match with so much riding on it always has a tinge of sour grapes about it but South African Rasta Rasivhenge was certainly a contentious figure.

He failed to yellow card a Fijian player for a swinging arm to the jaw of Sam Dickson and then a minute later sent Rieko Ioane to the bin for a marginal tackle. He also penalised New Zealand heavily at the breakdown.

New Zealand captain and Papamoa resident Scott Curry, who missed the match with a leg injury, was clearly upset by the rulings after the game.

"A few calls didn't go our way, well a few, no calls went our way and it is hard to win from there," he said.

"The effort was definitely there and the boys did exactly what we talked about.
Defensively they pushed up and held their zones really well."

Injuries also played a major role in New Zealand's demise.

The loss to Japan on day one of the tournament saw arguably the two key attacking weapons in Sonny Bill Williams and new Bay of Plenty recruit Joe Webber invalided out of the tournament with serious injuries.

Curry picked up a debilitating haematoma on his leg in the win over Kenya that ruled him out of the Great Britain and Fiji games, leaving the New Zealanders with just 10 fit players to pick from.

New Zealand played France this morning (4.30am) in the play-off for fifth and sixth position.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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