Dubai: Argentina’s shock win against World Series champions Fiji and the sheer dominance of defending champions New Zealand were the standout moments of the second day as the Pumas were joined by the superpowers of world men’s rugby sevens including Australia, England and South Africa at the Dubai Rugby Sevens on Friday.
In what was a historic moment for the Argentinians as they broke world champions Fiji’s nine-year winning run in Dubai, the Pumas just hung in and eventually prevailed in the last few seconds against the World Series champions. Trailing the world No. 1 team — who are the defending Olympic champions after winning in Rio de Janeiro three years back — Argentina got the deciding all-important try through Marcos Moroni to win 24-21 and qualify for the knockout quarter-finals alongside the other perennial favourites.
Going into their eighth head-to-head match, Argentina never looked like posing any sort of challenge. But the Pumas played with their hearts as they went into half-time with a 12-7 lead. The Fijians led and were cruising till a crucial moment in the very last minute as Vilimoni Botitu got a two-minute sin-bin allowing the Pumas one last play with Moroni moving in from the right for a try.
“We needed a win to bring about smiles on our faces. We needed this one to boost our confidence for the weekend,” Argentina captain Santiago Alvarez said.
“But what is more important is that we needed this one to convince ourselves that we can compete against the best in the world. We are ranked No. 9 and Fiji is No. 1, but our goal is to cut down and improve our rankings.”
New Zealand, the six-time Dubai champions, who have figured in 10 finals here, meanwhile remained the team to beat as they secured top spot in Pool C ahead of neighbours Samoa. “The mental focus is about rebuilding and getting better each time we go out. The important thing is that we work hard every time we are on the pitch,” Ngarohi McGarvey-Black told Gulf News.
New Zealand have already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and that’s one major thing out of the way. “We’ve got to try some new things here whether we use these or not during competitions,” he added.
The women’s competition also had its own bit of stutter as France dug in deep for a 19-14 win over defending champions New Zealand. However, both qualified for the quarter-finals with France scheduled to take on Canada, while the Black Ferns will be up against Fiji.
That result turned things on its head in Pool C with the Black Ferns ending in second place with seven points as France topped with nine. England with five points and winless Japan finished with five and three points respectively. The US — champions of the opening round of the 2019 season in Glendale — topped Pool A with nine followed by neighbours Canada with seven, while Russia and Brazil ended with five and three points.
Pool B was perhaps the closest with Australia at the top with nine points followed by Fiji and Spain with an identical six points as Ireland remained at the bottom with three points.
Emerging as one of the tough opponents here, Australia will take on Spain as Russia face the USA in the other two quarter-finals. The semi-finals will be worked out at 2.12pm and 2.36pm, while the final will be at 6.33pm.
Samoa 31 Wales 12; New Zealand 31 Canada 7; Australia 45 Ireland 21; USA 31 Scotland 21; France 41 Japan 5; Argentina 24 Fiji 21; England 12 Kenya 5; South Africa 35 Spain 5; Canada 31 Wales 14; New Zealand 40 Samoa 7; Scotland 29 Ireland 31; USA 12 Australia 24; Argentina 33 Japan 7; Fiji 24 France 14; Spain 22 Kenya 19; South Africa 19 England 14
Quarter-finals: (11.14am) France v England; (11.36am) New Zealand v USA; (11.58am) South Africa v Argentina; (12.20pm) Australia v Samoa
Spain 19 Fiji 19; Australia 38 Ireland 5; Canada 43 Brazil 0; USA 33 Russia 14; France 21 Japan 7; New Zealand 40 England 12; Ireland 12 Fiji 28; Australia 38 Spain 5; Russia 22 Brazil 7; USA 34 Canada 10; England 31 Japan 14; New Zealand 14 France 19
Quarter-finals: (9.44am) Australia v Spain; (10.06am) Canada v France; (10.28am) Fiji v New Zealand; (10.50am) Russia v USA