Mariette Adams

Fiji break Blitzboks’ hearts

Amenoni Nasilasila scores and Jasa Veremalua celebrates with him Amenoni Nasilasila scores and Jasa Veremalua celebrates with him

Amenomi Nasilasila scored a try in extra-time as Fiji ended the Blitzboks’ gold-medal hopes with a 24-19 semi-final win at the Commonwealth Games on Sunday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.

After an undefeated and largely unchallenged opening day, the Blitzboks were pushed to their limit by the Fijians and came up short. 

Deadlocked at 19-19 at full-time, the game went to extra-time and Fiji held their composure to snatch a sudden-death win through Nasilasila’s try following a breathless passage of play that left both sides out on their feet.

Earlier in the contest, South Africa looked for all money to be crashing out after conceding three first-half tries which left them trailing 19-0 at the break. But the Blitzboks clawed their way back into contention with three unanswered tries of their own in the second half to level matters.

South Africa made a strong start, with Dylan Sage slapping the ball back to their side from the kick-off. They went on the attack and with Fiji’s defensive line retreating, the Blitzboks appeared set to score in the corner. However, a loose pass was intercepted and with no sweeper back in defence for South Africa, Eroni Sau was in the clear to score at the other end.

That costly error was the catalyst of a complete Blitzboks meltdown. Fiji soaked up a lot of pressure and their ferocious tackling frustrated the South Africans, who were also outmuscled at the breakdown. 

Jerry Tuwai extended Fiji’s advantage with a try originating from turnover possession inside their own half. Their third try came when the ball was kicked in behind the Blitzboks defence and sat up for the chaser, despite Justin Geduld tracking back.

The Blitzboks went all Blitzboks in the second half, though. Suddenly their smothering defence came into play, the discipline improved, the passes were sticking and the execution after creating scoring opportunities were more accurate.

Cecil Afrika came off the bench and made an immediate impact. In possession in midfield, he expertly put Rosko Specman into a gap to score under the posts unopposed. A little bit rattled by the Blitzboks’ urgency, Fiji tried their luck at a long kick into space again to get out of the danger zone, but South Africa were prepared for it.

They secured possession and launched an attack from deep. The ball was sent to Ruhan Nel, who did extremely well to create space by staying on his feet and drawing three defenders. That play allowed Specman to go around on the outside to score another one to make it 19-12.

The Blitzboks went deep with the restart and Fiji were unable to exit. Aggressive tackling from all seven Blitzboks players kept the Pacific Islanders cramped between the 5m line and the tryline. And after numerous attempts, Tim Agaba forced a turnover penalty. It was taken quickly and spread to the left, where Sage took the final pass to score.

Behind by two, Afrika nailed the all-important touchline conversion to force extra-time.

After a two-minute break, Fiji received the kick-off and kept possession. But when the ball-carrier got isolated, Kyle Brown was all over him like a rash. The ball squirted out of the ruck and Brown dived over and tried to slap it back to his teammates, but it was knocked forward. From the resulting scrum, Fiji attacked down the left flank, taking the ball through the multiple phases. The ploy worked, as the Blitzboks lost their shape in defence when all the players came in to defend closer, leaving the right corner exposed.

Fiji just needed to go wide and they did to score the decisive try. 

The Blitzboks will face England in the bronze-medal match at 06:17, followed by the final women's final between Australia and New Zealand and the men's final between Fiji and New Zealand. 

Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

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