By the end of a grueling match played in soggy conditions, defending champion Fiji was able to hold onto its title, coming out victorious 12-10.
“It’s a dream come true for us the take the medal back home and to defend the title again,” try-scorer Litia Naiqato (FIJ) said.
The Australians went undefeated throughout the round robin stages, including a 26-7 victory against Fiji, but weren’t able to taste gold in their first Pacific Games appearance.
“We knew there would be some very tough opposition in many teams, but particularly Fiji,” Australia coach Tim Walsh said. “We had eight girls on debut here, so it was going to be a big ask for them. I guess the disappointing thing is that the game was actually there to be won, and we just didn’t execute.”
The match got off to a flying start when Georgina Friedrichs (AUS) went over in the left-hand corner to open the scoring.
But Fiji’s Ana Roqica answered back with a timely try moments before halftime, picking the ball up 15 metres out and scoring after a strong run by Rusila Tamoi (FIJ) put her team in scoring position.
It made the halftime score 5-5 and set up a nail-biting second half.
Things looked grim for Australia when with three minutes 30 seconds left in the second half Friedrichs was handed a yellow card for infringing at the break-down.
The Australians defended stoutly and looked like they might survive the two-minute one-woman disadvantage until Timaima Ravisa (FIJ) decided enough was enough.
Ravisa made a break down the right, fending off a number of Australian players before incredibly passing the ball to Naiqato while under the black dot herself.
Luckily Naiqato had her wits about her, took the pass and placed the ball down for the try.
But it was not over, as with just moments left in the game Australian captain Nicole Beck made a great run down the left to score and keep her team’s hopes alive.
Good perseverance in defence from Fiji meant she was prevented from running under the posts, and Beck then shanked the conversion attempt badly to deny Australia a chance at extra time, and the gold medal.
“I thought we defended relatively well – we just lost composure in attack,” Walsh said.
Fiji gathered the ball from the restart and kicked it into touch to end the game for the two-point victory.
“It’s the heart and the mentality that we use during a tough game,” Naiqato said of her’s teams key to success. “Australia’s not an easy team, they have been on top of the world, and we are just developing now. I’m pretty happy that we were able to break some of some of the tackles they were giving us.”
In the women’s bronze medal game Papua New Guinea secured the hosts a rugby 7s medal as they scored three unconverted tries to beat New Caledonia 15-0.
“I’m feeling so happy, and proud of my country,” Trisilla Rema (PNG) said. “I’m proud of winning this color for my country, taking the bronze.”
Menda Ipat (PNG) opened the scoring for the home side, with Rema adding a pair of tries, including a near full-field run for the game’s final scoring play, to secure a comfortable victory,
“I was trying my very best to get the ball in from that distance, and I was happy [to get the try],” Rema said.
Samoa ended up as fifth-place finishers earlier in the evening with a 5-0 victory against Tonga.
By J Fitzpatrick, W Lovai, D Kerwin and Dr P Garpet, Games News Service