The Stade Ernest-Wallon enjoyed some great rugby in the second-of-three days at the HSBC France Sevens. Argentina became the third team to secure their ticket for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris and they did so in style, beating Great Britain 55-0 at the end of pool play, also denying the All Blacks Sevens the chance of securing the Series title a week earlier, by qualifying to the semi-finals.
Canada, in preparation to play in next week’s four-team survival of the fittest World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 Play-off, secured an unlikely semi-final spot beating Australia thanks to their strong defence in the final minutes. They will play Argentina.
The second semi-final will see New Zealand, who blanked Ireland 35-0 in their quarter-final, face France, who defeated Great Britain at the death to book their spot in the final four to ensure the stadium will be loud come semi-finals time tomorrow.
The first quarter-final saw how good Canada were in Toulouse. Leading 12-10 in the final seconds, the Aussie Sevens had a big decision to make – take the three points from a penalty or play the ball and find a gap to score. With the ball going from side to side, it needed a huge Brock Webster tackle to give the Canadians their first semi-final spot of the season. Needing to win next week’s four-team tournament to retain core status, peaking on the final tour of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 has to be very positive.
The second semi-final showcased the efficiency of the All Blacks Sevens. Having survived an early onslaught on their try-line, with the need of TMO confirmed their line hadn’t been breached, they controlled the game against Ireland, comprehensively beating them 35-0.
Marcos Moneta continued to show his worth to Argentina as he made up a try from nowhere before the second minute to make sure the Blitzbokke knew that they had a hard game on hand.
A perfect chip-kick from Rodrigo Isgro placed the ball for Moneta to continue breaking the Pumas’ Sevens try-scoring record for a season.
Without giving the South Africans time to think what to do next to close the score, Luciano González made the best of the kick-off to score his team’s third try, ensuring that the Series champion will be decided in London and not Toulouse.
A yellow card for replacement Joaquín Pellandini offered an extra player to the South Africans that quickly took the opportunity, scoring two tries but failing with a conversion, giving Argentina the nine-point buffer to play down the clock for the 21-12 win.
The day finished with a repeat of the women’s quarter-final. As in the earlier game, Great Britain opened the score when Api Bavadra took the outside on a short pass to score in the sixth minute.
Soon after the restart, France attacked and Jordan Sepho showed his speed to run unopposed for fifty yards to tie the game going to the break.
The second half saw Great Britain receiving two consecutive yellow cards, giving Andy Timo a two-player overlap for an unconverted try, only taking five points from the double power play opportunity.
The crowd, at its loudest, was quietened when 24 seconds from full time saw Will Horner score on the left corner. The goal was missed and the draw gave both teams an extra opportunity to win it and find a new hero.
It was France's Varian Pasquet who scored the match-winning try 80 seconds into injury time to start the huge celebrations for the home fans.
"It is always amazing to play at home, the first time for me here in front of family and friends," said the try-scorer.
"We know them (the All Blacks Sevens) very well. We came close in Hong Kong and this time we will have the crowd behind us."
Nine to sixteen
All eyes were on what Uruguay and Spain would produce as they fight for survival at the top. Their games came, as if scripted, back-to-back, with Los Teros opening against Japan. The Asian side would not lie down and the 17-5 win meant Uruguay had to work hard, despite leading 17-0 going into the final three minutes. Masked Mateo Viñals, one of Uruguay’s best in the ten tournaments to date, got a brace.
It was hard to predict on paper what would happen between USA and Spain. With the North Americans already knowing they would need to go through regional qualification process in their quest of a place in next year’s Olympics, this game did not have the same meaning for them than for Spain. It showed as the well-supported Spaniards scored almost at ease with veteran Pol Plá scoring a hat-trick as tackles were easily broken as they won 42-14.
Fiji, missing out on much-needed tournament points, proved too good below the Cup quarter-finals, beating Germany 28-5 to continue a run to finish ninth.
The morning opened with a ten-try Irish-fest as they needed to ensure maximum points in the case of teams drawing on points. On the other side of the 66-0 loss was Japan, now confirmed as relegated for next year’s Series. Braces from Zac Ward, Harry McNulty and Andrew Smith were bettered by the boot of Billy Dardis, who only missed two of those conversions.
The win paid off as Ireland advanced to the quarter-finals as Australia secured top spot in pool D beating Samoa 26-7.
The loss meant that Samoa was played off the Olympic Qualification run as them not advancing to quarter-finals meant they would not earn sufficient points to challenge Los Pumas Sevens.
Canada continued their upward ride after comfortably beating a Uruguay side needing the win the day before by beating Kenya 33-7. Thomas Isherwood managed to show his hair style a lot on camera as he was very busy during the game, including scoring a try, setting up a couple and converting three. Finishing second in Pool A, the Canadians qualified to the quarter-finals, something they hadn’t done since all season.
Uruguay has never beaten the All Blacks Sevens and for a while it seemed it might happen in Toulouse. The 14-12 loss showed how quickly they recovered from losing a huge opportunity against Canada the day before.
Whilst the winners scored by breaking from a distance, Uruguay’s two tries, both following an earlier score by the All Blacks Sevens, required much more work, effort and stamina. Their goal in Toulouse is to finish higher than Spain.
Los Leones played the next game and left no-one in doubt of their intentions beating invited side Germany 29-0, gaining momentum going into the business end of the tournament.
Closing Pool B, Argentina paraded their Olympic ticket by beating Great Britain 50-0 with star Marcos Moneta crossing for three tries in an eight-try fest.
“It is incredible; we set that goal (Olympic Qualification) at the start of the season, and it took a big effort from the team and the staff so very happy,” said Moneta after the game.
Architect of qualification is coach Santiago Gómez Cora. “Happiness is our first feeling, pride on the work done and joy at knowing we’ll have an extra month off,” he said of not needing to go through the regional qualification process.
“This shows that you are allowed to dream. We are happy of where we are, but we will chase more.”