NZ survive Australian scare as Olympic quarter-finalists confirmed
The quarter-finalists of the men’s sevens tournament at the Tokyo Olympics have been found as pool play has come to an end.
New Zealand, Argentina, Australia, Fiji, Great Britain, South Africa, the United States and Canada have all emerged from the group stage still in contention for medal placings and will do battle with each other in Tuesday’s quarter-finals.
The All Blacks Sevens had already qualified for the quarter-finals leading into their trans-Tasman encounter, but, after Argentina thrashed South Korea 56-0, the Kiwis needed a win to cement their place at the summit of Group A.
A dominant first half by the Australians afforded New Zealand no territory as the vast majority of the action took place inside the Kiwi 22.
Despite the scrambling cover defence by the All Blacks Sevens, it was no surprise to see their defensive line crumble twice as Australia took a 12-0 lead into the half-time break.
Ex-Wallabies midfielder Samu Kerevi opened the scoring with some hot-stepping before the Kiwi defence folded again under a mountain of pressure as Australian captain Nick Malouf reached out to dot down.
A searing break down the left-hand flank by Tone Ng Shiu brought New Zealand back into the game in the opening phases of the second half, though, as he assisted Dylan Collier for New Zealand’s first try of the match.
Collier picked up a yellow card from the following re-start for taking a man out of the air, but that didn’t faze the All Blacks Sevens, who scored and took the lead while still undermanned thanks to the vision of playmaker Andrew Knewstubb.
Sloppy hands from both sides in the dying stages of the contest denied each team the chance to score any further points, which allowed New Zealand to survive a mighty scare their underdog neighbours.
There is a silver lining for the Australians, though, as they have secured qualification for the quarter-finals by virtue of being one of the two highest-ranked third-placed teams across the three groups.
There they will play Fiji, who took top spot in Group B after thumping Great Britain 33-7 in a re-match of the 2016 Rio Olympics final.
The nimble footwork, outright pace and offloading prowess of the Fijians was on full show in the first half as Jiuta Wainiqolo, Asaeli Tuivuaka and Sireli Maqala all ran in tries to take a 19-0 lead into the break.
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Fiji then benefitted from their defensive solidity, both in terms of impact and consistency, in the opening few minutes of the second half as they trapped the Brits deep inside their own half before forcing an error for Tuivuaka to score from.
It was the first time the Brits had shown such ineptitude after shutting out both Canada and Japan on day one, while the result was a noticeable improvement for Fiji, who didn’t look at their best on Monday.
Ben Harris managed to bag a consolation try for Great Britain in the second half, but a try to Aminiasi Tuimaba on full-time put an exclamation mark on the result, which will see the Brits take on the USA in the quarter-finals.
The Americans put up a strong fight against South Africa in the final group clash of the tournament, taking the early lead and keeping the scores tied at half-time, but eventually fell away to the Blitzboks in the second half.
A brace of tries to Selvyn Daivds and one to Stedman Gans cancelled out tries scored by Joe Schroeder and Brett Thompson to ensure the South Africans topped Group C, meaning they will face Argentina in the quarter-finals.
In what would have been the biggest surprise of the tournament, underdogs Ireland nearly qualified for the final eight after putting on a defensive clinic in their 12-7 win over Kenya.
The Irish only qualified for the Olympics through the Final Qualification Tournament in Monaco last month and have barely featured on the World Sevens Series circuit.
However, the men from the Emerald Isle impressed throughout group play and continued that vein of form by constantly putting the Kenyans under defensive pressure.
The US Eagles will host the All Blacks in Washington DC for an October test match designed to grow interest in rugby amongst Americans in hopes of staging a future Rugby World Cup. #AllBlacks #USAEagles https://t.co/4VdGHfCD1n
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The Africans struggled to gain any continuity as a result of the Irish onslaught as they remained pegged inside their own 22 for much of the encounter.
That pressure eventually boiled over as Kenya’s mistakes were capitalised on by Ireland, who scored first half tries through Hugo Lennox and Harry McNulty.
However, Kenya eventually managed to build enough phases with ball in hand to score in the final minute of the match via Vincent Onyala.
His try, and the successful conversion from Daniel Taabu, cut Ireland’s winning margin to five points, which denied the Irish the seven-point winning margin they needed to qualify for the quarter-finals as one of the two best third-placed teams.
Instead, Canada will progress as the eighth-ranked team after they consigned host nation Japan to its third straight defeat in the opening match of the day in a clash between Group B’s two winless teams.
A hat-trick to Connor Braid helped ensure the Canadians a 36-12 victory as the North Americans capitalised on Japan’s ill-discipline and shoddy defence to book a date with New Zealand in the final eight.
The first quarter-final, between New Zealand and Canada, will kick-off on Tuesday at 5:30pm local time, and will be followed by Great Britain’s clash with the United States half an hour later.
South Africa will then take on Argentina after that, while Fiji and Australia will close out the day’s play at 7pm local time.
Argentina 56 (Tries to Lautaro Bazan Velez, Matias Osadczuk, Santiago Mare, Luciano Gonzalez, Rodrigo Isgro, German Schulz, Gaston Revol, Ignacio Mendy; 5 conversions to Mare, 2 conversions to Revol, conversion to Felipe del Mestre)
South Korea 0
New Zealand 14 (Tries to Dylan Collier, Andrew Knewstubb; 2 conversions to Knewstubb)
Australia 12 (Tries to Samu Kerevi, Nick Malouf; conversion to Lewis Holland)
Canada 36 (Tries to Connor Braid (3), Justin Douglas, Theo Sauder, Phil Berna; 2 conversion to Nathan Hirayama, conversion to Pat Kay)
Japan 12 (Tries to Kazushi Hano, Chihito Matsui; conversion to Kazuhiro Goya)
Fiji 33 (Tries to Jiuta Wainiqolo, Asaeli Tuivuaka (2), Sireli Maqala, Aminiasi Tuimaba; 3 conversions to Napolioni Bolaca, conversion to Kalione Nasoko)
Great Britain 7 (Try to Ben Harris; conversion to Dan Bibby)
Ireland 12 (Tries to Hugo Lennox, Harry McNulty; conversion to Billy Dardis)
Kenya 7 (Try to Vincent Onyala; conversion to Daniel Taabu)
South Africa 17 (Tries to Selvyn Davids (2), Stedman Gans; conversion to Davids)
USA 12 (Tries to Joe Schroeder, Brett Thompson; conversion to Madison Hughes)
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