- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Fiji rallied from 15-0 down at halftime to beat Australia 21-15 in the final of the Las Vegas Sevens on Sunday, opening a five-point lead in the World Series.

Australia pinned Fiji inside its own half and scored three unconverted tries to Sam Myers, Ed Jenkins and Cameron Clark to take what seemed to be an insurmountable lead at the break.

But Fiji rallied after halftime with two tries to Kitone Talinga, one of which spread the length of the field, and sealed the match with another length-of-the-field try to Savenaca Rawaca after Australia star Quade Cooper dropped the ball a meter from the Fiji line.

Fiji leads the series standings after five of 10 rounds with 91 points ahead of South Africa with 86 and New Zealand with 82.

Coach Ben Ryan said the Fiji win would be a huge tonic to their nation which is struggling to recover from devastating Cyclone Winston.

“It’s been an awful tragic time back in Fiji for the whole population and there’s going to be some dark days ahead,” Ryan said. “I am just glad that we have put a smile on the face of all the people back home.”

The final was played in a strong wind which proved influential. Australia had it at their backs in the first half and made full use of their territorial advantage while Fiji struggled to spark its off-loading game and paid for ill-discipline.

Fiji ran with the wind in the second half and reversed the tide of the match.

“That wind was such a leveler,” Ryan said. “In some pretty awful conditions I thought Australia played brilliantly.

“In the first half their game management was excellent and we just managed to hang onto the ball at some crucial times in the second half and we got a bit of momentum.”

Australia went on the attack from the kickoff and Myers scored after two minutes. Fiji was reduced to six men by a yellow card for a dangerous tackle and Australia seized on its advantage and scored through Jenkins.

It continued a run of ill-discipline for Fiji, which was twice reduced to six men during its 21-14 semifinal win over the United States.

Cameron Clark made Australia’s lead 15-0 just before halftime in the final but Clark missed the conversions of all three tries and that became costly when Fiji surged back into the match after halftime.

Taliga sparked the rally when he received possession close to his own line and sprinted in for a long-range try. He scored his second minutes later and the conversion by Vatemo Ravouvou cut Australia’s lead to a point at 15-14.

Australia was hot on attack in the final minutes when Cooper conceded possession. Fiji launched a counter-attack from behind its own posts and Rawaca took the last pass to score a breathtaking try. Ravouvou again added the conversion.

Osea Kolinisau, who was named player of the final, said the Fiji team had been motivated by the tragedy at home.

“I reminded the boys this week that we needed to remember the people back home who were victims of Cyclone Winston and that we needed to give them something to be happy about after all the devastation,” he said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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