Fiji safely through to quarters at Hong Kong Sevens

A rugby fan wears a mask of U.S. President Donald Trump during a match at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong, Saturday, April 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Rugby fans dressed in Mexican costumes depicting U.S. President Donald Trump giving them a piggyback during the match at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong, Saturday, April 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Rugby fans dressed as pineapples ride on a train as they head to the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong, Saturday, April 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Rugby fans dressed as dinosaurs drink beer during a match at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong, Saturday, April 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG — Fiji beat rival New Zealand 17-14 Saturday to stay on course to win the Hong Kong Sevens for a third straight year.

The Olympic champions were facing the possibility of failing to make it out of the preliminary stage after being held to a 17-17 draw with Wales but ended up finishing top of Pool C after a dramatic last-gasp win over New Zealand.

The Kiwis almost won right at the end with a last-minute try but the score was disallowed after the final pass was ruled to have gone forward.

"We expected a tough match from New Zealand but we managed to keep our cool and composure," Fiji coach Gareth Baber said. "We worked hard and were able to snatch it right when it could have been taken away from us."

The Pacific Islanders now face Pool B runners-up Canada in Sunday's quarterfinals, while New Zealand tackles current World Series leaders South Africa after the Blitzboks defeated Canada 26-7 to top Pool B.

"That's sevens for you," New Zealand coach Scott Waldrom said.

"I believe this team is still good enough to win because when we get it right we do look good, but unfortunately we keep making mistakes."

Australia went through as Pool A winners after beating England 12-10 in a bruising encounter to decide the group.

Although both teams were already assured of a place in the knockout phase after winning their first two pool games, they threw everything they had at each other in a match that had the crowd on its feet and roaring for more.

"I thought it was a great game of footy, I really did," Australia coach Andy Friend said.

"It was really competitive because both teams wanted it, you could see that."

Both sides scored two tries apiece but kicking proved decisive with Australia's James Stannard nailing a conversion from the touchline after England's Oliver Lindsay-Hague had missed one in front of the posts.

England coach Simon Amor said he was not surprised how hard the teams went at each other, saying the match would put them in good stead for the knockout games ahead.

"It's England versus Australia," Amor said. "And it's a wonderful sevens environment so people get inspired by the crowd. It really was a full-throttle kind of affair."

Australia will play Pool D runners-up Argentina in the quarters while England faces the United States, which finished undefeated at the top of Pool D with wins over Russia (14-7), Scotland (19-14) and Argentina (33-5).

Perry Baker has been the star for the U.S., scoring tries in every match, including a hat trick against Scotland but head coach Mike Friday said the Eagles needed to get better as a team if they wanted to win the biggest title on the Sevens circuit.

"If we want to progress in this tournament we're going to have (to) pull our socks up and put together a proper performance over two halves," he said.

"We're in the main event tomorrow and that's the main thing ... we need to promote the good habits and extinguish some of the bad traits because there's very small margins in the game of sevens."

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