Argentina won their third gold medal of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023, beating Fiji 35-14 in the Cup final at Twickenham on Sunday.
Fiji opened the scoring in the final but lost Josese Batirerega to a second-minute red card and Los Pumas Sevens took full advantage to round off their most successful season in style.
Earlier on day two, Australia secured qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, for the first time via the Series, winning the seventh-place play-off against Great Britain to wrap up fifth place in the standings.
Canada, meanwhile, confirmed their core status for next season by winning the World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 Play-off, edging a tense decider 12-7 against Kenya at Twickenham.
“It feels great, it feels like that’s where we’re supposed to be,” Canada captain Phil Berna said.
“We’ve been building towards this in the latter half of the season, and it all came together today. It was awesome.”
Argentina strike gold
Filipe Sauturaga gave Fiji the dream start to the final match of the 2023 Series, producing a stupendous dummy to bamboozle two Argentine defenders before cantering over the line.
Fiji’s hopes of securing a first Cup final victory of the season were dashed less than a minute later though as Batirerega was sent off for a dangerous tackle.
Argentina exploited the holes that appeared in the Fijian defence to score two tries before half-time, through German Schulz and Marcos Moneta.
Remarkably, Fiji levelled early in the second half as Sauturaga went over again but Argentina and Rodrigo Isgro responded almost immediately following an electric break from Moneta.
Those two players combined again as Isgro scored his second try of the final and there was still time for Moneta to notch his 100th Series try to seal the HSBC London Sevens title.
Australia book Olympic ticket
It looked as though Australia had let their hold on the fourth and final ticket to the Olympics slip as they suffered a Cup quarter-final defeat to Fiji early on Sunday.
Samoa, their closest challengers, had already booked their place in the Cup semi-finals and then led Argentina for much of their last-four encounter. Had they won that match then a place at the Games would have been theirs.
Were it not for a forward pass, in fact, Samoa would have scored the all-important second try that would have booked their place in both the Twickenham final and the Paris Games.
Instead, it was Los Pumas Sevens who scored the match-winner, through Santiago Alvarez, which denied Samoa a place in the final and meant they could finish on no more than 132 points in the standings.
As a result, Australia knew victory over Great Britain in the seventh-place play-off would book their passage to Paris and they achieved it at a canter, Nathan Lawson scoring a hat-trick in a 34-5 win to secure qualification via the Series for the first time.
“Today has been one of the biggest rollercoasters ever,” Australia captain Nick Malouf said after Olympic qualification was secured.
“We just got lucky by some miracle, had the chance to play for it there and there’s been so much hard work gone into this time. We’ve never qualified automatically so it’s a really big deal and [I’m] just so over the moon.”
Samoa regroup to end bronze drought
Samoa had not won a Series bronze final in their previous 10 attempts, stretching back almost a decade, but they recovered from falling 14-0 down to the All Blacks Sevens to win a nail-biting match 24-19.
Xavier Harris and Brady Rush scored early tries for the Series champions, but 18-year-old Malakesi Masefau crossed twice to give his side hope.
The teams traded tries to leave the score tied at 19-19 with time running out and it was left to Taunuu Niulevaea to sprint away down the right touchline to confirm a memorable victory for Samoa.
Earlier on Sunday, France suffered an agonising 19-17 Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand as Thomas Carol was timed out before he could attempt his conversion in the final play of the match.
They recovered to beat Australia 22-19 and then, in the fifth-place play-off, stormed into a 14-0 lead and held off a spirited Ireland performance to win 21-19.
South Africa played out a 26-26 draw with the USA during the pool stage, but the Blitzboks ensured the ninth-place play-off was more one-sided, racing into a 28-0 half-time lead and going on to win 47-5.
Relegated Japan were unable to sign off from the Series on a high. Jaime Mata scored Spain’s second and third tries and then assisted the fourth in the final play to ensure it was the Europeans who won the 11th-place play-off, 28-12.
Canada claim core status
Jack Carson and Alex Russell both scored hat-tricks as Canada beat Tonga 43-7 on Sunday to book their place in the Play-off final.
Kenya started day two on top of the Play-off standings and set-up a winner-takes-all match with Canada despite suffering a 14-10 defeat to Uruguay.
Los Teros Sevens, who missed out on securing their core status for 2024 through the Series standings to Spain by a solitary point, ended the pool stage level with Canada and Kenya on two wins and one loss.
However, they were made to pay for an inferior points difference and could only watch on as Canada took on the Shujaa for a place on the new look 2024 Series.
Kenya won the pair’s pool-stage meeting and struck first in the decider when captain Nelson Oyoo produced a brilliant finish to score in the corner.
Canada hit back before half-time, however, and then with the Shujaa missing John Okeye, who had been shown a yellow card, at the end of the second half, they created the space for Alex Russell to score what proved to be the match-winning try.
It means that Canada will take their place as the 12th and final team on the revamped 2024 Series, while Kenya will not be back on this stage until 2025 at the earliest.
“There’s so much competition on the Series, dropping it down to 12 teams, it’s a fight every game,” Canada coach Sean White said. “We’re so proud to come out on the right end.”