RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Fiji moved into the rugby sevens medal round at the Olympics after a 12-7 win over New Zealand, and will face an unexpected rival in the semifinals after Japan continued its remarkable run.
No. 2-ranked South Africa had a more conventional run, overturning an earlier loss to Australia in a 22-5 quarterfinal win Wednesday night to set up a semifinal against Britain, which needed a try in golden-point extra time from Dan Bibby to edge Argentina 5-0.
The back-to-back world series champion Fijians are vying for their country’s first ever Olympic medal and have already overcome one of the toughest hurdles in world rugby by beating New Zealand in a knockout match.
“We’ve got one aim and that’s to win gold medal, not silver or bronze,” Fiji coach Ben Ryan said. “Sometimes it’s dangerous to set out outcome goals as a coach.
“But we’re No. 1 in the world, we’re not trying to be arrogant, we’re saying this is what we want. Silver will be a disappointment as bronze and fourth place.”
Ryan said the rugby-mad Fiji public would expect nothing less than the title now that their team has reached the last day unbeaten, including wins over Brazil and Argentina on the opening day and holding off the United States 24-19 in the last of the pool-stage games when quarterfinal positions were still at stake.
But Japan is growing in confidence after a stunning upset win over New Zealand and narrowly missing a draw against Britain on the opening day of the tournament and following it up on day two with a win over Kenya before a 12-7 quarterfinal win over France.
Auckland-born Lomano Lemeki played a pivotal role in Japan’s run to the semifinals, and said he’d probably be the most unpopular Kiwi in the world after playing a part in New Zealand’s early exit. It doesn’t worry him at all, though, given the attention the Japan team is getting for its performance in Rio.
“It’s pretty crazy, we’ve been told we’ve got to turn our phones off between games,” he said. “I think rugby’s starting to get bigger than soccer over there.”
Japan produced the biggest upset ever at the Rugby World Cup with a win over South Africa in the group stage last year in the marquee tournament in the 15-a-side game. Lemeki said that victory helped inspire the team, but he didn’t realize just how much.
“I thought we’d come here, win a few games, give it a good go, I thought we’d be lucky to make the quarters let alone the semis,” he said. “So I don’t know what’s happened here.”