The inaugural HSBC Spain Sevens provided a weekend to remember in Málaga as South Africa needed a late try to come out on top in an engrossing men’s final and the USA clinched their first Series title since 2019.
South Africa pipped Argentina to the gold medal thanks to the efforts of player of the final Selvyn Davids, who surged over the try line after the buzzer to clinch a thrilling 24-17 win.
The Blitzboks have now won all three Series events this season, and five tournaments in a row, while their victory over the battling Pumas marked the third-best winning streak of all time with a 29th straight victory.
In the women’s tournament, the USA clinched gold by beating an impressive Russia side, who made it to the final despite their squad being reduced to just nine players.
The Russians produced the shock of the weekend by beating Series leaders Australia in the semi-final, ending their 15-match winning streak.
BLITZBOKS LEAVE IT LATE
South Africa have looked unbeatable at times during their imperious recent form, and went into their fifth consecutive Cup final as big favourites, after conceding only one try all weekend in Málaga.
But Argentina, competing in their first Cup final for five years, immediately sent a message of intent when Rodrigo Isgro crossed the try line early on before the Blitzboks struck back with a quick-witted tap-and-go from Davids.
JC Pretorius extended South Africa’s lead after the break, but the game was flipped on its head in the space of an astonishing minute.
Joaquin De La Vega scored a try, before notching another direct from the restart less than 60 seconds later, after gathering a fumbled effort to collect the kick-off and powering over the line.
The Blitzboks reduced the deficit when Justin Geduld went over in the corner, but the conversion fell agonizingly short and left the Series leaders two points down with one minute remaining.
Davids burst through the defence to win it, evading a desperate tackle from Marcos Moneta to get over the line and spark joyous celebrations.
“We knew it was going to be tough here. We gave it our all, stuck to our instructions and played as ourselves,” said Davids.
USA WOMEN CLINCH GOLD
A second-half double from lightning-quick substitute Jaz Gray helped the USA earn their first Cup victory since 2019, as they defeated Russia 35-10 in the women’s final to take gold.
Russia’s shock semi-final victory over Series leaders Australia was one of the stories of the tournament, but they couldn’t match the Eagles in their first Cup final appearance since 2015.
The USA Women’s Eagles started with a bang as Kris Thomas burst through the defence and under the sticks, but Russian star Baizat Khamidova continued her superb form by fending off a defender and surging through for her sixth try of the tournament.
Naya Tapper, a day on from becoming USA’s all-time top try-scorer, crossed the whitewash for the 98th time for her country, but Russia fought back once more as Snezhanna Kulkova dotted down in the final act of the first half.
A superb second-half performance put the result beyond doubt, as the electric Gray showed blistering pace to sprint under the posts twice, either side of a yellow card for Russia’s Daria Shestakova for a high tackle before Ilona Maher put the cherry on top with a late score.
It was a big improvement for the Women’s Eagles, who finished fifth and seventh in the two Dubai events.
“I’m so proud of this group, Dubai wasn’t how we wanted to end. We worked so hard, we did exactly what we planned,” said Maher.
“We have some new people, some returners, we’ve been working on our culture.”
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) January 23, 2022
BATTLING ENGLAND STUN AUSTRALIA
England made their mark on their return to the men’s Series by clinching bronze in style, fighting back from ten points and two players down to record a spirited 24-20 victory over Australia.
A new-look English side featuring six debutants featured for the first time this season, after their players were involved in a combined Great Britain side in Dubai, but the current crop displayed outstanding character to overcome the third seeds.
Henry Hutchison scored an early try and England were left with a mountain to climb when they had two men sent to the sin bin, and Maurice Longbottom capitalised by scoring to put Australia 10-0 up.
But the five men struck back when Freddie Roddick made a break to set up Jamie Barden, and Will Homer completed the comeback at the end of the first half to put England in front.
Ed Coulson and Freddie Roddick struck after the break, with Corey Toole’s two second-half tries proving to not be enough for Australia.
In the semi-finals, South Africa put in an almost flawless performance to beat third seeds Australia 19-0 in a repeat of December’s Dubai final.
The Blitzboks applied intense pressure on the Australian defence from the off and were rewarded with tries from Pretorius and Mfundo Ndhlovu before the break before Selvyn Davids added another to complete a memorable display.
England’s inexperienced side fell to defeat against Argentina, who ran out 26-17 winners despite resting key man and World Rugby men’s Sevens player of the year Marcos Moneta.
Tries from Luciano Gonzalez, Felipe Del Mestre, Lautaro Bazan Velez and Isgro gave the Pumas a commanding victory, while Blake Boyland, Alex Davis and Coulson crossed for England.
Jamaica suffered a heartbreaking golden point defeat to Japan in the 13th place playoff, as they conceded a try at the death when on the verge of their first-ever Series win, before losing in extra time 29-24.
Spain took ninth place by defeating Wales 34-5, while France finished fifth with a 28-12 win over the USA.
AUSTRALIA PIP FRANCE TO WOMEN’S BRONZE
Reeling from their shock semi-final defeat, Australia bounced back in the bronze final with a commanding 33-7 win over a French side who finished third in the first two Series events of the season in Dubai.
The top seeds quickly took charge as Faith Nathan and Maddison Levi crossed, the latter becoming the tournament’s top try-scorer in the process by taking her tally to seven.
Jade Ulutule hit back late in the first half, but the Series leaders were at their imperious best after the break as Nathan grabbed her second try and Dominique Du Toit and Lily Dick also crossed the whitewash.
A dominant end to their weekend in Málaga offered some satisfaction for the Aussies after they suffered an almighty upset in the semi-finals, falling to Russia in an end-to-end 29-26 thriller.
Baizat Khamidova put Russia ahead in the opening minute and they managed to keep their noses in front despite repeated Australian fightbacks, with Alena Tiron, Kristina Seredina (2) and Viktoria Em crossing for the Russians and Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea, Demi Hayes, Levi and Madison Ashby scoring for Australia.
Les Bleues were guaranteed a third consecutive bronze medal match after falling to a 14-10 defeat to the USA in the first of the women’s semi-finals.
France twice responded to Women’s Eagles tries, Carla Neisen and Ulutule hitting back from Kayla Canett and Thomas efforts, but Alena Olsen’s successful conversions proved the difference in a keenly contested clash.
Canada and Ireland faced off in the fifth-placed playoff final after beating Poland and England respectively, and the Irish came out on top 26-5 to claim valuable Series points.
Invitational side Poland’s impressive run ended with a 22-10 defeat to England in the seventh-place playoff, while hosts Spain clinched ninth by beating Belgium 17-5 and Brazil took 11th, with Fiji unable to travel to Málaga.
NEXT STOP: SEVILLA
The teams move across Spain to Seville for the fourth round of the Series next weekend where invitational team Portugal will replace Fiji in the women’s event to complete a full 12 team line-up.
The pool allocation based on the finishing positions in Malaga sees the USA face Canada, England and Portugal in Pool A. Beaten finalists Russia are in Pool B along with Ireland, Poland and Brazil.
Series leaders Australia find themselves in Pool C where they will take on Olympic silver medallists France, hosts Spain and invitational team Belgium.
The same 15 men’s teams will take to the field in Seville as Fiji and Samoa are confirmed as unable to participate in Spain while Germany and Jamaica continue as invitational teams.
The pool draw for Malaga sees all-conquering South Africa in Pool A alongside the USA and hosts Spain in a three-team pool which includes a bye.
Pool B involves Argentina, silver medallists in Malaga, who will take on Ireland, Germany and Jamaica.
In Pool C the young English squad that claimed bronze in Malaga will face France, Wales and Japan.
Core Series teams Australia, Canada, Scotland and Kenya are drawn in a strong looking Pool D.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/ PACNEWS