Samoa surprised everyone by defeating the powerful New Zealand squad 26–19 in the USA round of the HSBC Sevens Rugby Cup at Las Vegas, Nev., Sunday afternoon.
The Samoans combined fierce defense with a swift, slashing attack, which the New Zealanders could not contain. The Samoans opened with a pair of unanswered tries (the rugby equivalent of touchdowns), and New Zealand’s Charles Piutau broke loose with a Samoan turnover to put some points up just before halftime.
Samoa came out strong in the second half with a run down the right sideline, making the score 19–5 two minutes into the half. The Samoan squad then played keep-away, holding on to the ball for as long as possible and stifling any New Zealand assault with swarming defense.
Samoa’s defensive tactics paid off until, with 45 seconds left, New Zealand’s Tomasi Cama broke free for a 50-yard try. The subsequent kick-off went out of bounds, and on the inbound play New Zealand’s Ardie Savea broke free for another 50-yard scoring run, tying the match at 19 with 15 seconds left on the clock.
Samoa had the option of killing the final 15 seconds and coming back in overtime, but after spending most of the half playing conservatively, decided instead to make one more effort. The final horn had already sounded when New Zealand won the ball in a scrum, and put together a series of 18 passes to finally feed Alafoti Faosiliva on the right sideline. Faosilivia powered through a pair of defenders and managed to extend the ball over the try-line for the game-winning score as he was dragged to earth.
Seven-Man: Rugby Sped Up
For people who have seen regular rugby, the seven-man game is a different animal entirely. The game still has all the powerful running and brutal hitting that makes rugby so exciting, but with half the defenders running plays a bigger role than in the 15-man game. There are more chances for a runner to break through the defense and get loose for 20 or 30 yards—or even 50, as the New Zealanders did twice in the final match at Las Vegas.
The periods are half-sized, too. Halves are 7 minutes each for all games except the final, which has 10-minute halves. This doesn’t make the matches easier; teams have to play two matches a day for each three-day weekend on the nine-event schedule. Getting up for the final game after two-and-a-half days of battering has got to be tough—and the final game is, of course, the most important.
Rugby doesn’t get much prime-time coverage in the United States. However, that might change as the sport gains a following in North America. Canadian and U.S. squads both made good showings. USA made an unexpectedly strong run before losing to the mighty Australian squad in the Bowl semifinals; the same Aussie seven downed Canada in the Bowl final. (There are three tiers of trophies awarded: Plate for teams beaten twice in their draw, Bowl for teams beaten once, and Cup for teams undefeated throughout a weekend.)
Rugby rules are not that complicated. Particularly with the seven-man game, there is lots of readily appreciable excitement to get novices involved while they learn the finer points. While it will likely never replace the NFL, rugby provides the kind of hard-running, hard-hitting action that football fans enjoy.