Seven things we learned from HSBC Los Angeles Sevens
We take a look at the main talking points following two enthralling days of action at the Dignity Health Sports Park.
Following an exciting, and at times incredibly damp, HSBC Los Angeles Sevens, New Zealand lead the way at the top of the men’s standings.
The All Blacks Sevens won successive tournaments for the first time since 2020 to give themselves a 21-point cushion in first place of the men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 with five events to play.
As the circuit packs up and heads north to Vancouver for this weekend’s HSBC Canada Sevens, and the women join the men on the bill, we bring you seven things we learned at Dignity Health Sports Park.
New Zealand remain the team to beat
The disappointment of missing out on a Cup quarter-final at the opening round in Hong Kong last November must seem a long time ago for the All Blacks Sevens.
Since finishing ninth at Hong Kong Stadium, New Zealand have taken their game to another level and have won a medal at each of the subsequent five tournaments.
It's looking good at the top for @NZ_Sevens 📈#LA7s | #HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/i3iiVLvWH9— World Rugby 7s (@WorldRugby7s) February 27, 2023
Adversity arrived again in Los Angeles, as they suffered a pool phase defeat to Samoa on day one, but they recovered remarkably on day two to take the title with outstanding displays against Great Britain, Australia and then Argentina in the Cup final.
The All Blacks Sevens have taken 99 points from the last 110 available and with five tournaments to play, although nothing has been won yet, they have put themselves in a strong position to claim the 2023 Series title.
Carter a class apart in LA
One impressive factor in the All Blacks Sevens’ current run of form is that it has been achieved without a raft of experienced players.
Kurt Baker has retired, while Andrew Knewstubb, Sione Molia, Tim Mikkelson and Tone Ng Shiu were among those unavailable for selection in Los Angeles (and Vancouver).
Leroy Carter was the latest player to shine in their absence as he scored eight tries – from only 12 carries – across the two days of action at Dignity Health Sports Park. His two scores at the end of the first half of the Cup final ultimately took the match away from Argentina.
Top six pulling away in Olympic race
We are now into the second half of the men’s season and results in Los Angeles have shaken up the race for a place at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
The teams that finish in the top four at the end of the 2023 Series are guaranteed their ticket to the Games and six teams are beginning to put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack.
New Zealand (107 points) have a healthy lead in first place, while Argentina and South Africa both have 86 points, two ahead of fourth-placed Fiji, who in turn have a three-point cushion over Samoa.
Australia are four points further adrift in sixth, one point better off than France, who are already assured of their place at the 2024 Olympics as hosts.
However, there is now a 15-point gap between fourth-placed Fiji and USA in eighth, while Ireland are a point worse off in ninth. Great Britain, despite a positive weekend in Los Angeles, are 37 points adrift of the top four.
Wet-weather sevens is fun
Thunder and lightning played havoc with the day one schedule in Los Angeles as the action was disrupted by several weather delays.
However, in between those postponements, the conditions made for some exciting rugby and provided players with an opportunity to mark their tries in unorthodox ways.
Ireland’s Jordan Conroy scored a hat-trick against Canada on Saturday and used the slippery in-goal area to enhance his celebration each time.
Men’s Series is as competitive as ever
Only two teams, invitational side Chile and Spain, ended the pool phase without a victory to their name as the opening day featured a number of big results.
The first of those came in the opening match, as Great Britain edged eventual runners-up Argentina 7-5, on their way to winning all three of their Pool D assignments.
Los Pumas Sevens would recover to reach the Cup final, where they faced a New Zealand side that had lost to Samoa during the pool phase.
Bronze final runners-up Australia, meanwhile, made the Cup quarter-finals despite losing to both Kenya and Fiji in Pool C.
There was heartbreak for Uruguay, though, who missed out on a Cup quarter-final despite beating South Africa 10-5 in Pool B.
Teba on form for Fiji
Iowane Teba celebrated his 30th birthday in fine style, scoring eight tries across the weekend in Los Angeles – including four in one match against Japan.
Teba made more breaks (nine) than any other player across the tournament and scored twice as South Africa were beaten in the Cup quarter-finals, before crossing the whitewash once more in the narrow semi-final defeat to Argentina.
His finest effort came in the pool-phase win over Kenya as he ran across the sodden pitch before producing a stunning finish in the left corner. He will hope to continue that form in Vancouver this weekend.
Series delicately poised ahead of Vancouver
The good news for sevens fans, and the pack chasing New Zealand, is that there is a short turnaround before the HSBC Canada Sevens kicks off in Vancouver on Friday.
Argentina and Fiji will be keen to build on promising weekends in LA as they look to reel in the All Blacks Sevens, while USA and Ireland need points in their hunt for Olympic qualification.
At the other end of the standings, Japan are now 11 points from potential safety, while Spain climbed to 12th and are now only four points adrift of Uruguay in 11th.