Australia stunned holders Fiji to win the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens on Sunday, taking their first trophy in the city in 34 years.

In a thrilling 20-17 game, a last-minute try from Nathan Lawson upended the Pacific islanders, who had been seeking their sixth Hong Kong win in a row, and 20th overall.

Hong Kong Sevens rugby
Australia celebrate their win in the Cup final against Fiji at the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament on November 6, 2022. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

Henry Hutchison put on two tries for the Aussies earlier in the game.

Most people had expected the Fijians to win.

“Until the last 20 seconds so did I,” said Australia coach John Manenti.

“Like all weekend we just hung in there; we found a way.”

Australia — reigning World Sevens Series champions — had earlier seen off Ireland and France, after losing to Samoa in the pools.

After topping Pool C, Fiji got to the final by sweeping aside South Africa and Samoa.

“It’s quite surreal that we’re even here,” said Manenti. “We had to fight, we lost against Samoa… we fought hard and beat the Kiwis. We had to fight against the French, we had to fight against the Irish.”

“All of a sudden we’re in the game, we’ve got a minute to go and the boys owned up, it was really special.”

The Hong Kong tournament is the first weekend of the new World Sevens Series, which will make an extra stop in the city in April. It also serves as qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Next up is Dubai Rugby Sevens, in early December.

Sevens tournaments hold a volley of finals on the last day, as a chance for sides knocked out early doors to lift some silverware. 

Hong Kong Sevens 2022 Hong Kong Stadium rugby
Spectators photographed on November 4, 2022, the first day of the Hong Kong Sevens. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In the lesser finals Sunday, the bronze medal went to France, while Argentina claimed fifth place, New Zealand sealed ninth, and Uruguay finished 13th.

Hosts Hong Kong were dumped out of the 13th-place playoff by Japan, going down 24-17.

Off the pitch, city officials had been eager to reboot the sports and tourism sectors and declare a return to normality after years of pandemic travel curbs in the southern Chinese city.

Spotted among the crowd, and maskless but holding a drink — in accordance with the rules — was Hong Kong security minister Chris Tang, well known for spearheading a crackdown on dissent since pro-democracy protests broke out in 2019.

As he gladhanded in the stadium’s south stand — the domain of fancy dress, YMCA chants and beer in a two-pint cup — the former police chief was greeted with a gentle ripple of boos.

Before Covid, the tournament reliably drew a daily crowd of 40,000 at Hong Kong Stadium, right up until its last edition in April 2019.

This year, the stadium is capped at 85 percent capacity because of pandemic rules and organisers were aiming for 30,000-plus a day.

But the venue was only about three-fifths full at the peak of the weekend’s crowds, with international visitors having been discouraged by rules against new arrivals entering public venues during their first three days in the city.

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