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All-European LA semi-finals as Ireland shock Argentina, Spain make history

By Finn Morton
Spain celebrate after beating Fiji in their SVNS LAX quarter-final. Picture: World Rugby.

Four European teams will challenge for Cup final glory at SVNS Lax after some stunning upsets which included Ireland’s win over Series leaders Argentina and Spain’s first-ever victory in 12 quarter-final appearances.

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Ireland and Spain stole the show with two of the most incredible surprises of the season, while France and Great Britain stood tall as they recorded a hard-fought win on Saturday evening.

France were made to work for their 14-nil triumph over hosts USA with Les Bleus overcoming a red card early in the second term to book their place in the next stage at Dignity Health Sports Park.

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Former World Rugby Player of the Year Antoine Dupont opened the scoring in just the second minute, and Andy Timo added another towards the end of the first period.

But rising star Theo Forner was sent off after being shown a second yellow card mere moments into the second term, and the USA Eagles looked desperately to strike with their advantage.

USA spread the ball wide hoping to find speedster Perry Baker in space, but France’s stop in that first phase set the scene for what ended up being a frustrating match for the home side.

“It’s going to give us a lot of confidence moving forward, especially having to deal with a whole half down to six (players). It just shows the kind of courage and determination and teamwork that we can put together when we want to,” France’s Aaron Grandidier Nkanang told RugbyPass after the quarter-final.

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“(The red card) was literally the first play of the second half… we prepare for situations that when we get yellow cards, red cards means we have to hold that situation a lot longer.

“It’s very tough on the body, very tough on the lungs, but I’m really proud of the boys because we managed to stay lucid, stay concentrated enough to stay to the gameplan for the whole six minutes.

“We didn’t even end up conceding any points so it’s a massive, massive plus.”

While the hosts were gone, there was plenty of interest and intrigue surrounding the second men’s quarter-final with Argentina matched up against Ireland in a heavyweight clash of the Titans.

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Argentina and Ireland, who were the top two sides on the SVNS Series overall standings heading into the Los Angeles event, were locked in a fierce battle that had everyone on the edge of their seats.

Even Green Bay Packers punter Daniel Whelan, who was born in Ireland, watched on in a state of nervous excitement as the fighting Irish rallied back from a half-time deficit.

After training 14-5 at the break, a double to Jordan Conroy and another score to Mark Roche propelled the men in green to a headline-grabbing victory over the Series front-runners.

Ireland are only the third side (joining South Africa and Fiji) to beat Argentina this season. It is only Los Pumas Sevens’ third defeat of the season, with their last coming in pool play way back at SVNS Cape Town in December.

“I think we did the impossible there,” Jordan Conroy told RugbyPass. “But we’re fighting these last two weeks and we weren’t really getting rewarded so we had to dig really, really deep.

“We had to go hunt them… between the squad, we were out there with a mission.

“It didn’t look too good in the first half but we just stuck with it and just gritted it out and with the resilience in the team we got the double-u.

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“Sometimes you win ugly and sometimes you win nice and at the end of the day a win is a win and we’ll take it.”

Conroy didn’t know it at the time, but the other semi-finalists would be Spain and Great Britain. Spain won their first-ever Cup quarter-final against a six-man Fiji side, while Great Britain left it late into extra-time to break Australian hearts in an exhilarating quarter-final.

“There’s still stiff competition in there. Anyone can take the win in these situations,” Conroy said.

“We’ve been the top dogs but now it’s on to France, I think, and you know they’re on fire. We were narrowly beaten by them in Vancouver so we have a bit of a payback there as well.

“It’s a very tough competition and it can go either way and that’s the beauty of it. You never know who’s going to win, who’s going to lose.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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