|Photo: Connie Hatfield|
By Derek Charles Catsam
Australia-South Africa: Literal fireworks as the players emerge sprinting from the tunnel, to signify that the real matches have begun. The rest were basically for points in the overall standings. But now it gets real, with the first match a Tri-Nationa/Rugby Championship clash of Southern Hemisphere Giants, log leaders South Africa and the 6th place Aussies. Clean breakaway for Lachie Anderson to give Australia a quick lead in the first minute. Geduld injury. SA responds with a long run by Soyizwapi and a Nel try. It’s clear how much the quality of play has improved. 7-7 at the half. Soyizwapi with another great breakaway, this time zigzagging for the Blitzbokke, who miss the front-of-posts conversion, 12-7. Aussies respond, make conversion – 14-12. Rosco Specman takes the pass after a penalty tap and outsprint the Aussie defender, who hits him beyond the boundary, could have been a yellow – another missed conversion – those will haunt you. 17-14. South Africa holds off a rampant Australia, who take the ball from behind their 22 to beyond the SA 22. Blitzbokke hold on for a hard-fought 17-14 win. The Saffies can defend stoutly and still run and create imaginatively, and they showed here that they can win the tight ones. There is a reason why they lead the table.
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USA-Argentina: USA starts off strong, but handling/passing errors are their undoing in the first half. Nicholas Menendez draws first blood not long after a USA turnover. Missed conversion – 5-0. US steal and breakaway, but whistled for offside in a controversial call that the stadium announcer perhaps inappropriately points out. Argentina turns around and scores a try and conversion putting US on back foot heading into second half. Argentina storms over for third try at near corner – once again the result of sloppy US handling. Kind of shocking, since at least theoretically catching ought to be an American strength given our preferred team sports. Missed conversion – 19-0. Maka Unufe with a nice try that he takes to between the posts from the far left – just turned on the afterburners. Conversion makes it 19-7. Unufe with a second breakaway try. Conversion makes it 19-14. Suddenly it’s a game. There you go – after regaining possession they got it to Perry Baker, and he just accelerates, and few in world rugby are catching him. US holds on to win after Argentina get it to within a hair’s breadth of the 5 meter line. Hell of a comeback for the Americans, who trailed 19-7 at one point.
Canada-Fiji: defending champs heavy favorites over a Canada team that comes in to the game 12th in the standings. Fiji starts strong, Canada is game if overmatched. Fiji scores a try and converts. Canada responds well, with a great try a few meters right of the pipes. Missed conversion. 7-5. Fiji respond in typically Fijian way. Two tries straight down the belly. 21-5 at the half. Some Canadian sloppiness leads to a Fiji try – you just cannot give them opportunities. They just about always take advantage. 26-5. Canada with some nice play to work the ball down the field. Try and conversion – 26-12. Probably just cosmetic, but Canada shows some fight. But after the hooter blows Fiji puts the cherry on the sundae with a nifty try down the sideline. 31-12 final.
New Zealand-England: Were this 15s this would be a tasty matchup. As is, it’s pretty sweet, as this match pits the 2nd place English against the 4th place Kiwis. Early back and forth, but New Zealand breaks through for the first try by captain DJ Forbes. Conversion 7-0. Somewhat tentative by both sides. Or maybe they are both evenly matched. This is the lowest scoring first half of the quarters, as that one try serves as the lone score, 7-0. Crowd has really thinned out – clearly many come here for the event, many others come to see their own country’s team play, and still others want something in the tank for what should be a heck of a day of rugby sevens tomorrow. New Zealand the aggressors to start the second half. Tim Mikkelson fights and claws and squeezes his way to a try. Conversion right in front of posts is good, and 14-0 seems pretty solid with less than 5 minutes to go the way this game has been played so far. Nothing coming easy to either side. Hell of a try by Mikkelson – runs past most of the defense, grubs one past the man he has to beat, picks up the ball despite interference that could have drawn a whistle and rolls over for the try. New Zealand misses the conversion, but 19-0 should be enough to carry them to the quarters.
So we have South Africa-USA, Fiji-New Zealand in the semis tomorrow. We should have a great day of rugby on the last day of what is supposed to be a very, very blustery Las Vegas Sevens.