USA defend their Las Vegas Sevens title

Posted by Nazvi Careem (from World Rugby press release)

USA retained their title in Las Vegas with a 27-0 victory over Samoa in the Cup final and become the outright leaders on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2019.

Three scintillating days of action at the Sam Boyd Stadium saw the home team finish on top of the world and that further emphasises their credentials as potential series winners come the end of the season.

After four consecutive Cup final appearances, finishing with four losses, Mike Friday’s outfit were willed on by a packed house. The fervent home support brought out the best of the side and the result was a converted final victory and the retention of the title that they won in Las Vegas 12 months ago.

Despite losing Danny Barrett to injury at the end of the second day, the outfit dominated the Cup final with physicality in defence and sharp finishing in attack. In contrast Samoa, playing in their first Cup final since 2016, didn’t settle and went into the interval 10-0 down.


The USA upped the tempo in the second seven minutes and never looked like losing. They scored five tries in the final with two coming from the HSBC Player of the Final Ben Pinkelman and kept their opponents scoreless.

Speaking after the victory the USA captain Madison Hughes shared the feelings of excitement and pride after their recent Cup final losses, “If we’re going to win one of them then the one at home was the one we wanted. It feels so good, having missed out on it last year when I was up in the box [injured]. So now to be here on the field feels pretty good,” said Hughes.

“I’m so proud. That final shows that the first day didn’t really go the way we wanted it to but there was such good fight in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final. It feels pretty amazing to be out here now.”

Pinkleman added: “It’s amazing. This is the exact moment we wanted. We had it last year and we didn’t want anything more than to be right back here, to be surrounded by everyone storming the field. It’s a great feeling.”


After five rounds, and at the halfway point of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2019, the tournament victory creates a five-point cushion for the USA at the top of the standings with 98 points. New Zealand are in second place [93], Fiji sit in third [84] and England are currently in fourth [68], just one point ahead of South Africa.

At the end of all ten rounds the top four teams will confirm their places at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Twelve teams will compete for the Olympic medals in from 27 July-1 August at Tokyo Stadium and Japan are the only side currently qualified due to automatic qualification as the host nation.

All 16 teams that took to the stage in Las Vegas will now rest and recuperate before reconvening for the next leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Canada on 9-10 March.

New Zealand mounted an impressed comeback against Argentina to secure third position with a 26-19 victory in the Bronze final.


Cup semi-final losses to the USA and Samoa respectively meant that the duo had to settle for trying to achieve a maximum tally of 17 World Series points and the contest for bronze was an enthralling one. The early signs were that New Zealand would dominate the contest, they looked the fresher of the two and Joe Ravouvou scored within the opening seconds. However Los Pumas Sevens showed character and determination to lead 14-7 at half-time and 19-7 with four minutes to play. Fatigue then took its toll just as the All Blacks Sevens found another gear. Tone Ng Shiu and the powerful Sione Molia were the men to break Los Pumas Sevens’ hearts. Molia then finished the game by securing a vital penalty at the breakdown.

The All Blacks Sevens’ Cup semi-final against the USA started in the best possible fashion as they attempted to beat Mike Friday’s side at that stage of a tournament for the first time this season. New Zealand raced 12-0 in front thanks to tries from Sione Molia and Kurt Baker before the home team pounced. Folau Niua opened their account and a combination of Carlin Isles’ first try and Madison Hughes’ conversion pushed the USA out to a 14-12 at half-time advantage. The intensity of the contest soared in the second half as they exchanged tries before the match locked up at 19-19 heading into the final moments. With the home fans behind them, the USA Sevens Eagles played their trump card – Isles – and his hat-trick score, flying off the base of a ruck on the final play, clinched the match and won him the UL Mark of Excellence Award.


Argentina’s Cup semi-final was decidedly different to New Zealand’s and not in a good way for Los Pumas Sevens. Santiago Gómez Cora’s outfit finished day two on a high after securing a golden-point victory over England but found themselves on the receiving end of a clinical display from Samoa. Sir Gordon Tietjens men were brimming with confidence, and in their first Cup semi-final since 2016 never let their opponents settle. Captain David Afamasaga crossed within the opening minute and from there Manu Samoa were in full control. A 19-5 half-time lead turned into 33-5 before late tries for Argentina from Francisco Ulloa and debutant Franco Florio narrowed the final margin back to 33-19.

FIFTH FOR ENGLAND

England beat Fiji 19-15 to finish fifth in Las Vegas and gain 13 valuable series points which moves them into fourth in the standings after five rounds of the season. It was an intense game throughout, with plenty of physical collisions, but was won in the final seconds by Charlton Kerr dotting down in the corner.

England set out their physical early against Fiji – Will Muir’s first carry showed their ambitions – and their first try came as a result of one-up runners gaining vital metres. Tom Mitchell’s conversion handed them a 7-0 lead before Jerry Tuwai made his mark. Tuwai, a standout player across the three days and an HSBC Dream Team member, crossed and then set up Alasio Naduva to create a 10-7 advantage. On the stroke of half-time, Meli Derenalagi was sent to the sin-bin but a wayward pass from Dan Norton meant that England couldn’t make further inroads before the pause. The match remained locked until just over two minutes to play when Fiji’s excellent wrap around gave Terio Veilawa an unopposed route over the line. There was room for one final twist though as tries from Ryan Olowofela and Kerr helped to clinch a four-point victory.


Earlier in the day, Fiji had an incredibly tough and intense clash with South Africa for the honour of playing in the fifth-place final while England shut down Australia, who lost their shape slightly without captain Lewis Holland. Holland was suspended due to disciplinary reasons after a high tackle against Fiji on the second day.

SCOTLAND LIFT THE CHALLENGE TROPHY

Scotland snatched a thrilling Challenge Trophy final out of Spain’s grasp after Jamie Farndale raced away down the wing to bring about a late 15-14 victory.

Los Leones had started the final with purpose, they opened up an overlap which Inaki Mateu exploited by scoring and then he converted his own try. They kept Scotland quiet for the duration of the first seven minutes before their opponents broke out on the final play and Alec Coombes provided five valuable points.

With the final poised at 7-5 Juan Martinez didn’t quite have the reach to be able to score for Spain and Scotland then took it the length. The team’s footballing skills ensured that Sam Pecqueur was able to get behind the last defender and put them ahead for the first time. Spain hit back and thought that they had the trophy wrapped up before Scotland’s co-captain Farndale took matters into his own hands.


Scotland’s Challenge Trophy semi-final opponents were invitational side Chile and once again Los Condores Sevens showed considerable skill and character. Benjamin De Vidts scored first before Scotland wrestled two tries back, one through co-captain Robbie Fergusson and the other from Max McFarland. The duo’s work produced a 12-5 lead at the interval, an advantage that John Dalziel’s side held for the duration of the second half. Despite strong Chilean pressure late on, Harvey Elms put the cherry on top with a length-of-the-field try in the final moments for a 17-5 victory.

Spain’s route to the final saw them prevail 24-7 over Kenya at the start of the second day. Los Leones excelled at the breakdown as well as having the ability to convert a wealth of possession into the tries required. Ignacio Rodriguez-Guerra, Pablo Fontes and Javier Carrion (2) all crossed over the course of the 14 minutes while Bush Mwale scored Kenya’s only try.

Words and main photo: World Rugby

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