It finally happened! The USA rugby 7s team, the form team of this year’s World Sevens rugby series, made an unprecedented fifth final in a row – and finally won one.
The Americans, playing without two of their best players, defended their Las Vegas crown by beating Samoa 27-0 on Sunday.
US finally hit the jackpot
As we wrote last week in our World 7s rugby update going into the Las Vegas fifth leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series, the US had not yet cracked the code of winning a final this season. They had made all four finals before Las Vegas but had also lost all of them.
They have seemed like a team that saves their best performances for the semifinals but then fell apart in the final. And so it proved again, the first part anyway. The USA rugby 7s team once again defeated the All Blacks Sevens in the semifinals, the third time this has happened this season But they did so this time from 12-0 down.
Flying winger Carlin Isles, who burst to fame a few years ago as the fastest rugby player in the world but who has been overshadowed in recent years by his buddy Perry “Speedstick” Baker, came to the fore when his team needed him most.
Isles, who is a sub-11-second sprinter, scored three times against the Kiwis in a pulsating contest. His burst for the winning try late in the game, making it 24-19, was almost impossible to stop. It came in a flash on the blindside against a stunned All Blacks 7s side.
By then the Americans had also lost their powerhouse forward Danny Barrett, who hurt his arm in their 29-10 quarterfinal win over South Africa.
In other words, despite being without two of their best players — Baker, who has twice been voted World Sevens Player of theYear, and who broke his jaw earlier in the series, and Barrett — the Americans saw off heavyweights South Africa and New Zealand, and then re-emerging powerhouse Samoa in the final.
This just shows that the US are building some serious depth in the side, which should stand them in good stead not just for the rest of the series, but also for the Olympics next year.
Will they win again in Vancouver? Winning back to back titles isn’t easy and hasn’t been done by more than one team in each of the past three season: Fiji won four in a row last year, South Africa did three on the trot in 2017, New Zealand went back to back in 2016.
This is a testimony to the increasing strength and competitiveness of the series.
Samoa may well be back
Samoa meanwhile looked like they enjoyed playing again in Las Vegas, which has proved a happy hunting ground for them in the now distant past, having won in 2010 and 2012.
Gordon Tietjen’s men overcame a 33-0 hammering by New Zealand in their first match to win four games on the trot, including a 21-20 over Australia in the quartefinal, to make their first final since winning the Paris 7s in 2016.
Samoa are starting to come back fitter, faster and stronger and with some exciting new talent led by the powerful David Afamasaga.
Finishing second in Vegas has seen Samoa jump three spots up the table to seventh, overtaking Argentina (whom they beat 33-19 in the semifinals), Spain (whom they saw off 26-21 in the group stage) and Scotland.
The test now is whether they can back up in Vancouver this weekend. They will have to — as they have hosts Canada and arch-rivals Fiji in the same group, along with perennial wild card Kenya.
Ups and downs
At the halfway mark, the USA lead the table by five points from New Zealand, with the other movers being England, who swapped places with South Africa into fourth, and Argentina, who moved up one spot tp eigth. Scotland, despite winning the Challenge Trophy (for teams that finished in the bottom two of the pools), dropped one spot to ninth, while Spain, who lost the Challenge Trophy final to teh Scots in the last play fo the game, dropped from eighth to 10th.
Defending series champions South Africa have had a dsiappointing campagin so far, generally doing no better than the quarterfinals, with their best performance being third in Cape Town. The loss of Rosko Specman to the Bulls’ Super Rugby team has been a huge loss. In Vegas, they even drew 5-5 with minnows Chile, who, it must be said, also did well against France later on.
Spain may have dropped two spots on the table but they did have a good tournament overall in Las Vegas, losing to New Zealand and Samoa and drawing with Canada in the first round. They then made it to the Challenge Trophy final but lost a game they should have won, with Scotland winning in the last play of the game with Spain leading 14-10.
Fiji is worth a punt
Fiji also had a disappiinting time in Las Vegas, but they rarely do badly two tournaments in a row. So expect them to do well in Vancouver – especially as theyare the defending champions.
The draw, for one thing, favours them slightly: win their group and they should avoid USA and New Zealand until the final.
And when Fiji get to the final, they tend to win it: the last final they have lost was Las Vegas 2017 – they have been in eight finals since then (over 20 tournaments), and won them all.
For fixtures and groupings for the Vancouver Sevens, click here.