The battle for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title will go down to the final event after Australia defeated New Zealand with a golden-point victory to claim their first gold medal of the season in London.
History was made as HSBC Player of the Final Henry Paterson ran in a hat-trick of tries to lead the Aussie Sevens to their first Cup final victory over the All Blacks Sevens in 20 years.
Their victory came after Fiji took bronze, while the remaining title contenders South Africa and Argentina finished fifth and ninth respectively.
That series of results saw the Blitzboks reclaim top spot in the standings with 124 points, two ahead of Australia on 122.
Argentina are third with 118 points, while Fiji in fourth have 104 points.
This season, the best seven results will be used for the final Series standings, leaving the crown up for grabs ahead of the final event of the season in Los Angeles in August.
New Zealand issued a strong response after being knocked out at the Pool stage for the first time ever in Toulouse last weekend, reaching the final before narrowly losing 19-14 in extra-time.
Fiji’s bronze, which they claimed after a thrilling 31-26 win over Samoa, saw them medal for a fourth consecutive tournament.
But it was another disappointing day for South Africa, winners of the first four tournaments of the season, who blew a 17-point lead to lose to Australia in the quarter-finals on a weekend where they had a chance to wrap up the Series title if results went their way.
Paterson puts on a show
History wasn’t on Australia’s side ahead of the final, as they had not beaten New Zealand in a final for 20 years, and lost eight of 10 finals against their old rivals overall.
The deadlock was eventually broken with 30 seconds remaining of a cagey first half, when Paterson received a clever reverse pass to go under the posts.
New Zealand came out firing after the break, as Akuila Rokolisoa burst through two defenders to level things up, before Leroy Carter went over the whitewash to turn the game on its head.
But Paterson showed his class once more with his second try of the game and sixth of the weekend, gathering the ball at a standstill midway into his own half before showing the pace to go the distance.
Paterson was Australia’s hero once again when he made a superb try-saving tackle in the final play of regulation time, forcing Caleb Tangitau into touch to send the game into extra time.
The Australian finished off a virtuoso performance by darting into the corner to score the winning golden point try, leading to jubilant scenes as the Aussies Sevens players piled on top of each other to celebrate their first gold of the season.
Fiji bag bronze
Fiji came out on top in a thrilling battle for bronze against Samoa, running out 31-26 winners in a try fest to keep their Series title hopes alive with a fourth consecutive medal.
Paul Scanlan almost immediately put Samoa in front, but Fiji issued a strong response as Elia Canakaivata showed immense strength to bulldoze through two tackles and reach the line, before Napolioni Bolaca dotted down twice as the Flying Fijians put on a showcase of pace and power.
A wonderful round-the-corner offload sent Pilipo Bukayaro through for Fiji’s fourth try and his sixth of the weekend, but Jeremaia Matana’s yellow card offered the Samoans a route back into the game and they took advantage, as Vaa Apelu Maliku and Uaina Sione crossed to make it a five-point game.
Josua Vakurunabili was next to cross and extend Fiji’s lead once again, but Maliko raced onto a kick in behind to score his second and reduce the deficit once more to set up a thrilling finale where Fiji did enough to hold on for victory.
All Blacks Sevens launch stunning comeback
New Zealand left high-flying Fiji stunned in the first semi-final, coming from 14 points behind to end their opponents’ 19-match winning run at Twickenham in dramatic fashion.
Fiji started strongly as Viwa Naduvalo crossed twice, either side of a score from in-form New Zealand flyer Ngarohi McGarvey-Black, and Waisea Nacuqu added a third before half time to leave the Pacific Islanders’ large support in delirium at a 19-5 lead.
But the Kiwis soon mustered a stirring comeback, sparked by Kitiona Vai’s try in the corner early in the second half.
Joe Webber then held off a tackle to offload to Dylan Collier and send him under the posts, narrowing the gap to two points, and the turnaround was complete when Akuila Rokolisoa caught out the Fijian defence by darting down the blindside from the back of a ruck to make it 22-19.
Fiji responded as Nacuqu powered over in the corner under two tackles, but a TMO review showed he lost control of the ball, and it was New Zealand who progressed to their 100th Series Cup final.
Australia stretched their winning run against Samoa to eight matches as they reached the final, running out 26-14 victors to continue their impressive record of never losing a London semi-final.
Series leading points scorer Dietrich Roache took his tally to 274 for the season with the opening try midway through the first half, before Matthew Gonzalez and Henry Paterson crossed to put the Aussies Sevens 19-0 up by half time.
Uaiana Sione burst through a tackle to cross and get Samoa back in it, but Corey Toole showed fine football skills by chasing his own kick to gather and extend Australia’s lead, and Owen Fetu’s late try was too little too late for the Samoans.
Ireland fall just short
A dominant first half performance from Fiji sent them on their way to a 36-10 win over England in the first quarter-final, marking a sixth consecutive victory for the Flying Fijians at this stage of the London 7s.
Josua Vakuranbili and Pilipo Bukayaro both notched braces as Fiji ran in six tries against the penalty-prone hosts, but Alex Davis restored some pride in the second half with a double that saw him reach the personal landmark of 50 Series tries.
Ireland’s bid to record their first ever win over New Zealand got off to a bad start as the All Blacks Sevens ran into a 12-0 lead by half-time thanks to McGarvey-Black and Brady Rush tries, but the Series’ leading try scorer Terry Kennedy reduced the deficit after the break with his 45th score of the season and sixth in London.
As the Irish pushed for a winning score inside the final minute, the All Blacks Sevens pounced on a loose ball and launched a counter-attack that led to Leroy Carter’s game-winning score in a 17-7 victory.
Spain were targeting their first ever Cup quarter-final victory against Samoa, but found themselves with a lot of work to do after Steve Rimoni and Paul Scanlan tries got the Islanders off to a strong start.
The Spaniards responded well despite being down to six men, striking back through Manu Moreno and Eduardo Lopez to draw level, only for Samoa to run in four tries in the final five minutes to run out comfortable 34-12 winners and reach a third consecutive Cup semi-final.
Blitzboks crash out early
In the crucial fourth quarter-final, South Africa knew a win could send them on their way to being crowned Series champions in London.
Neil Powell’s men got off to a dream start as captain Siviwe Soyizwapi, Muller du Plessis and Ronald Brown scored to give the Blitzboks a commanding 17-0 lead.
However, Ben Dowling struck back before the break to give the Aussies belief, and they turned the game around in the second half thanks to a double from Paterson.
There were concerns at the end of the game when Du Plessis suffered a head injury and needed to be stretchered off, but Springboks Sevens later tweeted: “Good news is that Muller Du Plessis is fine”.
The Blitzboks were left with a penalty near the halfway line and one last chance to grab victory, but after a long period of play Australia captain Nick Malouf won a penalty at the breakdown to cap a thrilling 21-17 victory.
South Africa clinch fifth
South Africa edged out Ireland in the fifth-place playoff with a 14-5 victory to end a disappointing weekend on a high.
The two sides defeated Spain (24-12) and England (36-12) respectively, and there was a big moment for Blitzboks star Branco Du Preez when he spun out of a tackle to touch down his 100th Series try against the Spanish.
Argentina made amends for their Pool stage exit by finishing as the best of the rest from those who didn’t make the knockout stages, beating Canada (28-7) in the quarter-finals, Scotland (26-12) in the semis and USA (31-5) in the playoff to seal ninth place.
Canada and Japan faced off in the 13th place playoff after defeating Wales (22-21) and Kenya (14-5) respectively, and the Canadians ran out 26-19 winners against the relegation-battling Japanese 16th seeds.
The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title is still up for grabs when the show rolls over to the USA for the final event of the season in Los Angeles.
The season-ending tournament takes place on 27 and 28 August at the Dignity Health Sports Park.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/PACNEWS