Fiji Beats Australia In Las Vegas Sevens

07/03/2016 3:03 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 06: Fiji celebrates after winning the Cup Final against Australia, 21-15, during the USA Sevens Rugby tournament at Sam Boyd Stadium on March 6, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Fiji!

Fiji just won the Las Vegas Sevens Ruby event, which is the latest stop on the world Sevens Series which visited Australia in February.

Fiji beat Australia 21-15 in the final after being 15-0 down at halftime. That's the sort of comeback you dream about. Its players -- many of whom lost loved ones and/or their own homes in the devastating Cyclone Winston -- dedicated the win to all Fijians.

Sport gets beautiful when it provides a little joy in bleak times. Remember Iraq winning the Asian Cup right bang smack in the middle of eight years of war?

But there's even more reason to celebrate Fiji's lucky Las Vegas Sevens success this Monday. With just five months until the Rio Olympic Games, the island nation of 880,000 people is eyeing off its first Olympic medal. Ever.

Fiji first appeared at the Olympics at Melbourne 1956, and has since flown its flag at 13 different Games, with 119 athletes competing. Those 119 athletes have competed in athletics, judo, shooting, swimming and weightlifting, but are yet to win a single medal.

Fiji wants a medal. Its people really, really want to see their country's name on the medal table. And that could be about to happen courtesy of the inclusion of sevens rugby on the Olympic program for the first time at Rio 2016. In any given month in any given year, Fiji is one of the top hopes in any sevens rugby tournament.

But... and this is a big but, the Fijian rugby side has its priorities right. Does it want special government funding for the Olympics to keep up with powerhouses like Australia and New Zealand with their sports scientists and medical entourages?

It does not.

Just this week, head Fiji coach Ben Ryan made it clear his thoughts were with the people of Fiji who need things like schools and hospitals in the rebuilding after Cyclone Winston.

"With all that has happened in the past few weeks, money is a premium in the islands," he told The Fiji Times. "The lack of funding for the Olympics does not bother us, it is only a hurdle."

Sevens player Waisale Serevi was on the same page. He said the Fiji team went to the Sevens World Cup in Hong Kong in 2005 without funding but came out winners. And how.

"I know that we always don't have a lot of things in Fiji unlike other countries who have funds, gyms and facilities we don't have in Fiji. We are still fundraising to go to the Olympics. We have 22 weeks and six days, unlike other teams who don't have to worry about funds.

"But it doesn't mean we cannot make it. We have the players and the coaches. I have played for Fiji, I have come through the 'no-money system' but the Fijian players know that when you are representing Fiji you are doing it for the President, Prime Minister, all their families, people of Fiji and all our supporters.

"We still have a good opportunity to win the gold medal."

This is what sport and the Olympics is all about. Or at least, it's what sport was once all about and should be about much more often. Anyway, it's awesome. Well played, Fiji. And well played Australia too, who despite losing, have reason to feel good about the road to Rio themselves.

IN OTHER SEVENS NEWS...

New Zealand had a disappointing Vegas Sevens, finishing fifth. One reason they were below par may have been the absence of Sonny Bill Williams, the Kiwi dual World Cup winner in the 15 man version of rugby and dual NRL premiership winner in the 13 man code.

Why no Sonny Bill? Ah, now that would be because of a knee problem which was reportedly made worse by Williams being forced to fly home from Vancouver recently in economy class.

Kiwi reporter Jack Tame delivered this colourful explanation on a New Zealand sports radio station on Monday morning:

"My understanding is that they were expecting Sonny to be able to fly business class. The team management had talked to Air New Zealand and arranged something.. but then they weren't able to. They turned up at the airport and he was told 'sorry buddy, you're down in 56J or whatever, down in between the bogs and the babies'."

Williams survived his bogs'n'babies ordeal, albeit with a little swelling, and is expected to be available for the Hong Kong Sevens in April.

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