Heavyweights advance at rugby sevens but Australia left to sweat

Published July 27, 2021
Lautaro Bazan Velez of Argentina in action. — Reuters
Lautaro Bazan Velez of Argentina in action. — Reuters

TOKYO: The favourites in the Olympic Rugby Sevens competition moved safely through to the quarter-finals after the opening pool matches in hot and humid conditions on Monday, but the fate of Australia and hosts Japan hangs in the balance.

New Zealand brushed aside the strong challenge of Argentina in their second game in Pool ‘A’, winning 35-14 to book their place in the last eight. New Zealand, who failed to make the podium in Rio, crushed South Korea 50-5 in their opener.

Australia may have to beat the All Blacks on day two to keep their hopes alive, though a thumping 42-5 victory over the Koreans improved their points difference after a poor showing in an opening 29-19 loss to Argentina.

Britain were hugely impressive in Pool ‘B’ wins over Canada and Japan, running in 10 tries without conceding a point, an ominous sign of their potential in the competition for the 2016 silver medallists.

Their big test will come in a final Pool ‘B’ game against Fiji, who beat them to gold five years ago and have also sealed their quarter-final place, with top spot in the pool to be decided.

Sluggish Fiji failed to get out of second gear on the opening day and were run close by Japan in a 24-19 opening victory, and they were equally lacklustre in a 28-14 win over Canada.

Japan and Canada will slug it out in a bid for a win that could put them in quarter-final contention as one of the two best third-placed teams. For the home side, there is the threat of an early exit after they were semi-finalists in Rio in 2016.

Deprived of a home crowd because fans are banned amid Covid-19 restrictions, Japan had a narrow 19-14 loss to Fiji before a 34-0 loss to Britain.

South Africa and the United States ensured they will be in the top two in Pool ‘C’ with two wins each, leaving Kenya and Ireland to battle for third.

The US and South Africa will meet Tuesday to determine first place in their group ahead of the night-time quarter-finals. The semi-finals and final are scheduled for Wednesday.

The Americans had two tight wins, with captain Madison Hughes finishing off a length-of-the-field winning try as the Eagles edged Kenya 19-14 at the end of the morning session. They later held off Ireland 19-17.

South Africa, bronze medallists in 2016, overcame the absence of coach Neil Powell — in isolation after a Covid-19 outbreak and dishing out advice by live laptop feed — to comfortably beat Ireland 33-14 before despatching Kenya 14-5 in a hard-fought game.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2021

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