Fan Favorites Top 8 at LA Sevens
Fan Favorites Top 8 at LA Sevens
The 2022 LA Sevens produced perhaps the best lineup of quarterfinalists any promoter of a rugby event could want.
The USA surprised many by starting the tournament with three superb tries to put World Series leaders South Africa on their heels, and it kept going from there. When the dust had settled, the Eagles were in the quarterfinals, and so were the other teams with the biggest fan following at Dignity Health Sports Park: Samoa, Fiji, and perhaps most surprising of all, Kenya.
Sunday’s action promises to be a thriller, but the atmosphere could hardly be expected to be better with those teams still in with a shot to win it all.
Add in Argentina, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand, and you figure it’s going to be loud.
Samoa seems to bring their best in the USA and when they play on American soil you wonder how they can ever lose. Their power in contact and their offloading skills—plus the odd kick out of nowhere—saw them blow by Kenya, Scotland, and England. Vaa Apelu Maliko is showing himself to be among the best in the world, and Samoa was luminous.
Kenya bounced back from their initial loss to squeeze by England and then stride away from Scotland. The Kenyan fan contingent, always among the loudest and proudest on USA soil, went wild.
The Lions are getting contributions throughout the lineup, but Billy Odhiambo and Willy Ambaka are leading the way.
Fiji and Ireland brought superstars to the party and Terry Kennedy started scoring tries early, closing in on 50 and almost guaranteeing the try-scoring title for the season. They needed some last-minute heroics from Chay Mullins to get by the tenacious French, but that fueled a dismantling of Wales. Fiji, meanwhile, were very Fiji. Their fans were in grand voice and it seemed like every one of them had a Fijian flag to wave. It seemed like any time an opponent inched their way back into the game, Viwa Naduvalo was on hand to score, or set up a teammate. Waisea Nacuqu was no less dangerous. They held off Wales and France, and then stretched their legs against Ireland to finish up 3-0.
Perhaps the most lopsided pool saw too many blowouts as the physical, precise Argentina and the dynamic Australia looked to take control. Spain was, unfortunately, outmatched in this pool, but there was some drama.
Two brilliant tries from the Aussies, with Dietrich Roache and Maurice Longbottom doing the honors, saw them come back to beat Argentina 19-14. Argentina went on to dismiss a plucky Japan by working the restarts well and offloading smartly out of contact. The thing about Argentina is they have become really unpleasant to tackle, and defenders pay dearly for poor form.
Australia hammered Spain to go 3-0.
The USA opened the tournament with one of their most startling halves of rugby this season. Playing without captain Kevon Williams (ankle), they controlled possession early, made a couple of key tackles, and then used their new guys. Perry Baker was set free on the edge, but South Africa took him down. No worries—the ball was simply sent wide to the other wide of the field where Still David Still beat several tacklers to race in to score.
Asked about the two-edged threat after the game Still said “hey, double trouble on the field now.”
The Eagles backed that up with some pressure but were in danger of blowing their chance. They took a scrum on a penalty near the South African line, but muffed the timing of the misdirection play they wanted to execute. South Africa kicked clear but then, from another scrum, Folau Niua ran a move, got Baker to charge ahead with three tacklers, and then Joe Schroeder was wide open to score.
Finally Baker got a little space to finish off some good work from the entire team, and with Lucas Lacamp taking the kicks, they were up 21-0 over the World Series-leading Blitzbokke.
South Africa came back, of course, but it took a long time and they got just the one try. The unheralded USA lineup had won.
Against New Zealand, the Eagles came up against a team that is starting to find its feet. They weren’t helped by a harsh referee call—the Eagles took the lead on a penalty try when Tomasin was high-tackled as he made the tryline. Referee Reuben Keane then called the Eagles for taking too long to kick the restart. The Americans said they were waiting for Keane to be present at halfway. Regardless, scrum to New Zealand and they scored from that, retook the momentum, and didn’t stop.
So it was all down to Canada, a team that had lost two games but had battled in both.
The Canadians won the restart and went right down the field to score. But the USA team didn’t panic, and got the ball to Still, who beat his man, and another, to go in from long range. Schroeder then scored right off the restart and it was 14-5 USA. Moments later Maceo Brown was over and it was 19-5.
Again they left Canada back into the game, perhaps softly. Two Canada tries and it was a tight 19-17 scoreline. Lose to Canada and all those good feelings from the South Africa match would be so much air.
And still, a close win might not do it. If South Africa beat New Zealand, then three teams would be 2-1, and the Eagles might lose out on points difference.
They put all of that to bed with some careful, methodical work to free up Malachi Esdale for a breakaway try, and that was it, 26-17. The only sad note was an injury to Joe Schroeder that looked pretty serious.
New Zealand was too much for South Africa in the first half, scoring through Akulia Rokolisoa, Che Clarke, and Lewis Ormond in quick succession to lead 17-0.
Of course South Africa came back, but New Zealand held them off 17-14.
So New Zealand went 3-0 and were very impressive, but for a USA side that wasn’t expected to get out of the Pool of Death, this was a huge day.
Day Two Early Games:
8:45am Japan vs England
9:07am France vs Canada
9:29am Scotland vs Spain
9:51am South Africa vs Wales
10:13 Australia vs Kenya
10:35 USA vs Fiji
10:57 Samoa vs Argentina
11:19 New Zealand vs Ireland