HONG KONG (AP) — Fiji began its interrupted quest for a sixth successive title at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens with a seemingly effortless 59-12 win over Japan on Friday.
Fiji’s fifth title came in 2019 and it has had to wait through the three intervening years in which the tournament was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic to resume its extraordinary winning record.
Iowane Teba scored three second-half tries in his first appearance in Hong Kong to inflate Fiji’s winning margin in its 22nd straight win over Japan and to make his early mark on the tournament.
Viwa Naduvalo, Jeremaia Matana, Waisea Nacuqu and Manueli Maisamoa scored tries as Fiji opened a 26-5 lead at halftime. Tira Wilagi and Pilipo Bukayaro scored along with Teba in the second as Fiji began its title defense with a clear statement of intent.
The tournament is the first of 11 on the 2022-23 World Series and two-time Olympic champion Fiji took up where it left off after winning the World Cup Sevens in Cape Town, South Africa, in September.
Fiji’s win on Friday gave it an early lead in Pool C from the United States which beat Spain 15-14 in its opening match.
David Still scored the first try for the U.S. in the third minute and Perry Baker added another in the eighth minute to recover the lead after Spain had scored through Josep Serres.
Juan Martinez gave Spain a short-lived lead which was erased by Malacchi Esdale’s winning try just before fulltime.
England-born Aaron Grandidier scored three tries for France which opened its campaign with a 34-0 win over Great Britain in Pool B.
“Our focus was just to win this game then progress through the stages to the final,” said Grandidier, who was playing for the first time in Hong Kong.
Four-time World Series champion South Africa has never won a Hong Kong title but began assertively in Pool B with a 21-0 win over Uruguay which has just joined the World Series as one of 15 core teams.
Selwyn Davids scored from the only line break of the first half while Shilton van Wyk and Ronald Brown scored in the second half.
“Our focus is not on winning the title at the moment,” Davids said. “Our focus is on winning game by game and then if we get to the final we’ll see.”
Samoa pulled off the only upset on opening day with a 20-0 win over New Zealand. It was not only the win but the margin of victory which shocked fans.
By the time the last match began, the pitch had been made slippery by rain and Samoa adapted best to the conditions while New Zealand tried and failed to play its traditional style.
Melani Matavao scored the only try of the first half and Samoa snuffed out any prospect of a second-half rally by New Zealand with tries to Va’a Apelu Maliko, Paul Scanlan and Steve Onosai.
The match throws open Pool A which also includes Australia.
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