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Baker puts USA back on track as champions Australia crash out
Defending champions Australia’s defence of their Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens title is over after they finished third in Pool C, behind USA and surprise quarter-finalists Spain.
France made certain of top spot in Pool B – and will face Spain in the last eight – in the final match of day two in the men's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 competition in Hong Kong.
They will be joined in the knockout phase by New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Fiji, USA and Great Britain on the final day of festivities in rugby sevens' party capital.
POOL A: Fiji and Argentina cruise through pool
Waisea Nacuqu explained the importance of the Hong Kong Sevens, after Fiji ran in eight tries to beat Canada 40-7 in the opening match of day two en route to finishing top of Pool A and qualifying for the quarter-finals. “The Hong Kong Sevens means a lot to Fiji,” he said. “It’s like our home ground.”
The remarkable Marcos Moneta scored his 80th and 81st tries in just 17 tournaments as Argentina beat Samoa 26-19. Afterwards, Luciano Gonzalez said: “We are pleased with this victory. It’s what we came to do in Hong Kong - we stuck to our gameplan. We’re very happy.”
Sneaking through to seal a big win 😏— World Rugby 7s (@WorldRugby7s) April 1, 2023
Napolioni Bolaca's late try seals @fijirugby's spot at the top of the pool 🇫🇯 @DHLRugby | #ImpactMoment | #HK7s | #HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/bJNwSMFo9H
Argentinian happiness later tempered a little, however, as they were beaten to top spot in Pool A in an end-to-end 26-19 loss to fellow quarter-finalists Fiji.
But the pool winners were determined to keep their feet on the ground.
“We’ve managed to achieve our goal from day one and two. We are looking forward to our next job tomorrow,” captain Tevita Daugunu said afterwards.
Samoa, meanwhile, ended the pool phase on a high, running in five tries to beat Canada 29-5.
POOL B: Joseph the difference for France
Hong Kong China hero Max Denmark scored in the first minute of their Pool B match against Great Britain. But, then, the match ran to script, as Tony Roques’ side took control against the invitational team, comfortably winning 33-12 in the end.
Drama followed, as a pair of late Jefferson Joseph tries – the latter coming with the clock in the red, straight from the kick-off following the former – gave France a comeback 17-14 win over Uruguay to deny the South American side a quarter-final berth.
Les Bleus’ captain Jean-Pascal Barraque praised his side’s spirit after they made certain of top spot in Pool B, repeating their 17-14 winning score – this time against Great Britain – despite, he said, three below-par attacking performances in the pool phase. Joseph again pulled France back into the game with a chip-chase score after Ethan Waddleton had given Great Britain an early lead.
There was plenty for the home fans to shout about on day two, as Hong Kong China pushed Uruguay all the way in the penultimate men's match of the day, coming back from 19-0 down to 19-14 before Sebastian Schroeder’s late score settled the matter 24-14.
POOL C: Baker gets USA back on track as holders Australia stumble
Perry Baker scored four tries in two matches, as USA beat Japan and Australia to put Friday’s 7-0 loss to Spain behind them and book their place in the last eight.
Five tries – including a double for Baker – were plenty as USA beat Japan 31-0 first up to keep their hopes alive. But, after Spain beat also the Japanese 31-7, they still needed to get the better of Australia in their final match to be sure of being in with a shout of the medals.
Dietrich Roache and Dave Still shared tries in a tension-fuelled first half that finished 5-5, before Baker scored twice in quick succession to take the game – and qualification – out of Australia’s reach, and USA into the last eight. Malacchi Esdale added the final touch to take the score to 24-5.
Spain had earlier given Australia a scare, taking a first-half lead through Alejandro Laforgo. But the Australia regrouped at half-time. Henry Paterson and Nathan Lawson went over in the second period to pull a 12-7 victory from the jaws of defeat.
Pool D: Vai and Carter do the job for New Zealand
New Zealand made it three from three in Hong Kong, with wins over South Africa and Ireland to set up a quarter-final against Argentina on Sunday. But they didn’t have things all their own way.
South Africa made them work for their 12-7 win, Cody Vai’s second-half try proving decisive; while the 26-7 final scoreline in the final match against Ireland was deceptive. The Irish were very much in it until Leroy Carter touched down two minutes from time before Fehi Fineanganofo added a late coup de grâce.
Earlier, Ireland’s Harry McNulty had needed just 15 seconds to open the scoring in their opening match of the day against Kenya. They went on to win 26-14 to set up a decider against the All Blacks Sevens.
But that loss against New Zealand meant South Africa qualified for the last eight in Ireland’s stead. South Africa were always in control against Kenya, scoring three times before their opponents got on the board, and Donovan Don touching down on his debut. Kenya’s Billy Odhiambo had the final word, his try making it 26-17 at the final whistle.