CARSON, California (AP) — New Zealand beat Olympic champion Fiji 28-21 in the final of the Los Angeles rugby sevens tournament Sunday immediately after Australia clinched its first World Series title, a championship decided in the penultimate match of a season which began nine months ago.
Several teams were in the hunt for the title when the last tournament began and new potential winners emerged as fortunes changed over two eventful days.
South Africa entered the tournament atop the World Series standings but only two points clear of Australia. When South Africa was twice beaten in the group stage — by the United States and New Zealand — it missed out on the quarterfinals of the elite Cup division and Australia’s chances of claiming the world title increased.
South Africa would have remained in contention if it achieved its best possible finish of fifth place and if Australia failed to win a medal. But the South Africans again were beaten, this time by Wales, to miss out on a playoff for fifth.
Australia’s 29-10 loss to Fiji in the Cup semifinals kept three teams in contention for the title. Australia needed to beat Samoa in the bronze medal playoff to secure it, while Fiji needed to win the final and for Samoa to win the bronze and South Africa needed both Australia and Fiji to lose their medal matches.
Finally, a confident and well-drilled Australia team beat Samoa 31-7 to take third place in the tournament and join their national women’s team who already are World Series champions. Australia is just the fifth nation after Fiji, New Zealand, South Africa and Samoa to win the men’s World Series title.
“We’re just a bunch of misfits who are having a crack,” Australia coach John Manenti said. “We’re working hard for each other.
“I think this medal is a reflection of the consistency the boys have shown.”
Australia won only two legs of the world series, but also had two silver medals, two bronze and a fourth placing. Each team’s best seven results across nine tournaments were counted toward the final standings.
In the final, Moses Leo scored the match-winner for New Zealand with a minute remaining to decide a thriller. Fiji and New Zealand had met in 28 previous World Series tournament finals and had 14 wins each until New Zealand edged ahead Sunday.
After conceding the opening try to Kaminieli Rasaku, New Zealand equalized with a penalty try for Fiji captain Waisea Nacuqu’s no-arms tackle. New Zealand went ahead with a try to Regan Ware but Nacuqu made amends for his earlier infringement with a try to make it 14-14 at halftime.
Tone Ng Shiu gave New Zealand a 21-14 lead early in the second half before Fiji leveled the scores again through Filipe Sauturaga. Leo sealed it for New Zealand with his try a minute before the final whistle.
“We knew it was going to be a tough match, especially because everywhere we go it seems to be a home crowd for Fiji,” New Zealand captain Sione Malia said. “We needed to be clinical and I think the boys did that.”
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