Kenya pulled off a stunning 30-7 victory over Fiji in the final of the Singapore Sevens to capture their first World Series event and join the growing list of contenders for the Olympic gold medal in Rio.
The east Africans, who had twice finished runner-up in tournaments, blew the Fijians off the park with six tries in the first-half, including two by Collins Injera who took his career tally to 228 touchdowns, just two behind Argentina’s Santiago Gomez Cora’s world record of 230.
“Winning this final means more to me than the tries,” Injera said. “I’m not focussed on them because the ultimate goal is to medal at the Olympics.”
Despite being weary after winning in Hong Kong last week and missing a handful of their top players, Fiji were still overwhelming favourites to win the final at Singapore’s National Stadium because of an ability to fight their way back into games.
In Sunday’s quarter-final Fiji scored two tries in the last minute to overturn a nine-point deficit and beat Australia 19-14.
Then they scored another two tries in the last minute to defeat South Africa 26-21 in the semis.
“We’re not blaming fatigue, we were beaten by a better team,” Fiji coach Ben Ryan said.
“In the final, Kenya extinguished us. They suffocated us and we couldn’t get our game going, the boys are going to learn some lessons there.”
Kenya also had to work hard to reach just their third final, and the first since 2013, with Injera landing a 40-metre drop goal penalty after the siren for a 15-12 win over Argentina in the semis.
But they saved their best for the decider.
Oscar Ayodi scored in the first minute then Injera crossed twice and Samuel Oliech once, to give Kenya a commanding 20-0 lead at halftime.
Fiji threatened to fight back when Jerry Tuwai scored under the posts shortly after the re-start but tries from replacements Nelson Oyoo and Frank Wanyama put the icing on Kenya’s greatest triumph in rugby.
“This means a lot,” Injera said. “Kenyan rugby has come a long way and getting one over on Fiji is really special.
“They are the strongest team. They are leading the championship but we kept believing. We kept working hard. We kept playing hard ball and the results speak for themselves.”
Despite the shock loss Fiji still extended their lead at the top of the series standings to eight points after eight of the 10 rounds to remain favourites to win gold when Sevens rugby debuts at the Olympics in August.
“I think world rugby will be thrilled with the results because the top table in Sevens is not a monopoly, it’s not like 15s, there’s a whole load of sides that are pushing hard and I think we’re going to see the same things in the Olympic Games,” Ryan said.
“We’re eight points clear in the world standings but our feet are firmly on the ground after that because Kenya really played outstandingly well.”
South Africa leapfrogged New Zealand into second spot after beating Argentina 28-0 in the third-place play-off, while the Kiwis dropped to third after finishing sixth in Singapore.
South Africa also finished third in Hong Kong last week and coach Neil Powell said the team was close to breaking through.
“Sometimes you need a bit of motivation just to show you’re doing the right things but I can assure you we’re on the right track and the boys know it’s just one or two mistakes, one or two bounces of the ball, and it could be different,” he said.
Samoa beat New Zealand 26-21 in the Plate final while Scotland defeated the United States 14-10 in the Bowl final and Russia downed Wales 24-7 in the Shield final.