By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
THE HOUSE might always win in Las Vegas casinos, but the odds were upset on the city’s rugby field at the USA Sevens.
At the start of the day, all the talk was of a third straight IRB Sevens Series final between England and New Zealand, but both favourites were upset in the semi-finals and South Africa went on to lift the Cup.
England let slip a 10-0 lead in their semi-final to South Africa to lose 17-10 while Fiji – inspired by some rousing words from sevens legend Waisale Serevi – dominated their last-four tie to beat New Zealand 26-7.
Come the final, South Africa’s speed proved more effective than Fiji’s power. The Fijians have a fine offloading game and some of their players were twice the size of their South African counterparts, but big isn’t always best.
Cecil Afrika was the smallest player on the pitch and was also the most influential. He used his pace and footwork to exploit space in the Fijian defence and opened the scoring.
Branco Du Preez, Bernado Botha and Chris Dry also scored tries for South Africa in the 24-14 win while Watisoni Votu and Mitieli Nacagilevu crossed for Fiji. The victory meant South Africa secured their first Seven Series title since winning in Adelaide in 2009.
At the halfway stage of the series, England and New Zealand still top the standings – they’re level on 80 points. But England coach Ben Ryan was disappointed by his team’s performance against South Africa and questioned the decision to play the Cup quarter-finals on day one of the tournament to accommodate broadcasters NBC.
“I’m very frustrated we didn’t see off South Africa in the second half and there were small errors from us,” said Ryan. “But we’re midway through the series and we’ll still be No 1 seeds going into Hong Kong and Adelaide.
“The goal posts shifted slightly here with four games on day one, which makes it difficult. We have to be careful we don’t sell our soul and lose the reasons the sevens game does so well. I hope the power brokers realise that.”
In the other finals, those who got lucky in Las Vegas were the USA, who lifted the Shield when beating Japan 19-12, Scotland, who overcame Canada 19-14 to win the Bowl, and Plate champions Samoa, 26-17 winners over Kenya.