SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - New Zealand winger Akuila Rokolisoa took the offload from Trael Joass and split two English defenders. Seconds later he was somersaulting over the tryline with the ball, but he might as well have been carrying the Melrose Cup.
New Zealand rolled past England 33-12 on Sunday with a performance that featured speed, strength and a stout defense to repeat as Rugby World Cup Sevens champions and become the first three-time winner of the tournament.
The All Blacks Sevens players ripped off their shirts but kept their gold medals on for a celebratory post-match Haka on the same field where the Black Ferns won the women’s competition less than 24 hours earlier. The results meant back-to-back World Cup doubles for the New Zealand teams.
“We were really proud of the girls how they played those two days,” New Zealand men’s sevens captain Scott Curry said. “It’s awesome to kind of simulate what they did earlier and go back-to-back for the first time ever. It’ll be good to go home with two World Cups, that’s for sure.”
Rokolisoa’s try with less than a minute left pushed New Zealand’s advantage to 14 points and Joass’ try on the final movement was merely an exclamation point to the match and the beginning of the celebration.
South Africa outlasted Olympic champion Fiji 24-19 to win the bronze after the tournament’s top two seeds were bounced in the semifinals.
Two-time reigning world series champions and top-seeded South Africa scored the opening try in its semifinal against England but was blanked the rest of the way in 29-7 loss. England needed overtime to beat the United States in the quarterfinals.
“Right now, it’s still hard,” English captain Tom Mitchell said shortly after losing to New Zealand. “You come into these tournaments wanting to be world champions. That’s why we’re all here. But I think we’ll look back at it and be proud of the effort the boys put in.”
The U.S. smothered Scotland 28-0 but tackled poorly and didn’t take care of the ball in a 33-7 loss to Argentina in the fifth-place game. Neither the American men nor women earned a medal at the Rugby Sevens global showcase but players and coaches agreed the three-day event, which sold more than 100,000 tickets, was important in raising USA Rugby’s profile. The sixth-place finish represents the best for the Eagles in a Sevens World Cup.
“It’s disappointing to end the weekend like that,” U.S. captain Madison Hughes said. “The energy of the crowd was just absolutely awesome all weekend.”
The knockout style of the tournament - a departure from the regular system of a group stage followed by knockouts - drew some criticism from coaches and players but World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper on Sunday said the organization will evaluate to see if the format could be used in future World Cups or world series events.
“This format lends itself very well to a combined tournament,” Gosper said. “We’d like to see the women playing with the men in the same stadium, and to do that you change some formats.”
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