South Africa won the Singapore 7s 20-19 over Fiji to strengthen the Blitzboks’ Olympic qualification hopes, and the USA weathered a trying Day Two but remains in 1st in the World Series.
South Africa denied Fiji back-to-back titles in Singapore with a dramatic 20-19 victory in the Cup final at the National Stadium.
England claimed the bronze medal with a vital victory over the USA, who remain series leaders, on a weekend when none of the top teams were able to take the opportunity to secure a place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The Blitzboks, who have only won two of their 30 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Cup titles in Asia, scored 20 unanswered points to complete the most remarkable of comebacks in the Cup final. It was a turnaround that won the UL Mark of Excellence Award.
The Cup final, from the start to the finish, was an exceptional contest and one of the most gripping this world series. Fiji flew into the lead in the opening seven minutes, looking unstoppable, as Aminiasi Tuimaba, Napolioni Bolaca and Vilimoni Botitu made their intensity count on the scoreboard.
With a 19-0 cushion it looked as if they would retain the title that they won 12 months ago, something no side has ever been able to do, but South Africa had other ideas.
Youngster Kurt-Lee Arendse commenced their fightback, the HSBC Player of the Final Angelo Davids followed alongside Ryan Oosthuizen one minute later. In the final seconds, South Africa remained two points down before Selvyn Davids scored a late penalty and they held Fiji out to complete
Tough Day Two For USA
For the Eagles, they almost lost in the Cup quarterfinals for the first time this season, edging Argentina 12-10 in a very physical game. Argentina decided to contest at every breakdown and were repeatedly offside, trying to take time and space away from the USA. It worked, and frustrated USA head coach Mike Friday so much his voice was heard echoing around the stadium as he lobbied for penalties.
The USA yielded an early try, and then scored through Matai Leuta—who had a big game—and Stephen Tomasin to lead 12-10 just before halftime. Then Argentina broke through, and Agustin Segura looked to be in for the go-ahead try. But Carlin Isles chased him, and gave Segura a push as the Argentine was getting ready to touch down.
The result was that Segura put his left arm out to break his fall, and his hand brushed the dead ball line just as he put the ball on the ground. No try, and the USA held on 12-10 through a scoreless second half. That half was made scoreless in part because referee Craig Evans seemed reluctant to issue a yellow card no matter how many ball-killing penalties Argentina committed.
That play by Isles, however, proved to be huge as the Eagles wilted in the Singapore heat and lost 24-12 to South Africa in the semis and 28-7 to England in the Bronze Final.
That 3rd-place match wasn’t helped by the fact that Joe Schroeder was sent off after committing two separate yellow-card offenses—deliberate knock-on and dangerous tackle.
Still, fourth isn’t bad for a team that lost Martin Iosefo to injury right before the tournament, and is still playing without two of its biggest stars.
The USA hasn’t clinched a top-four spot (and thus Olympic Qualification) but it is academic now. England, in 5th, has to win at least one of the remaining two tournaments, and finish no worse than second in the other, and hope the USA finishes in the bottom both weeks, to bypass the USA. And, even then, the USA would only drop out of the top four if South Africa, New Zealand, and Fiji also pass them by.
The Eagles remain 1st in the World Series, by a slim three-point margin over Fiji, 145 points to 142. New Zealand, having lost to Fiji I the Cup Quarterfinals, is way behind at 130. The Eagles’ formula for winning the World Series should be simple: finish higher than Fiji.
The very good news is that in five weeks, Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, Maka Unufe, and Martin Iosefo are expected to be available for selection. What the team has done without those players is nothing short of heroic, especially our pick for Player of the Year, Ben Pinkelman, but it will be nice to have those talents back in the fold.
|2018-19 Men’s Sevens World Series Standings|