Last year was too easy, with South Africa scoring the first 35 points en route to scorching New Zealand.
Even if the type of game was different this time, however, the result was quite familiar.
South Africa beat New Zealand for the second year in a row to win the USA Sevens rugby tournament Sunday, gaining a 14-7 victory before an announced crowd of 24,917 of Sam Boyd Stadium.
The tournament attendance of 68,608 set a record for the 5-year-old event in Las Vegas, beating last year’s mark of 67,431.
This was South Africa’s third USA title in four years, and the Blitzbokke moved one point ahead of New Zealand into first place in the world standings.
Also claiming trophies were England in the Plate division (fifth place) with a 26-24 victory over Australia; Fiji in the Bowl (ninth) with a 35-0 rout of Kenya; and the U.S. in the Shield (13th) with a 31-0 victory over Spain. Also, Canada won the third-place game by defeating Samoa 22-19 on a penalty goal at the end.
In the Cup championship, South Africa figured this wouldn’t be a repeat of last year when it thrashed New Zealand 40-21 to win the title, and the Blitzbokke prepared to win a physical matchup.
“And especially playing on a field not as wide here, we knew they would come after (us),” South Africa coach Neil Powell said. “It was up to us to return the favor. It’s always physical against them.”
After New Zealand took a 7-0 lead, South Africa evened the score at the end of the first half when Branco du Preez deftly handled a pass that hit the ground, picking up the ball and scoring a try.
Then the Blitzbokke scored the winner midway through the second half when Cecil Afrika passed to Werner Kok for a try.
Both teams were winded as the final minutes ticked down, but Las Vegas is a place where South Africa is comfortable, and perhaps the Blitzbokke’s success here gave them an advantage against the All Blacks.
“Everybody came out and gave it their all,” du Preez said. “Every opportunity you get, you have to finish. Otherwise you will lose the game.”
South Africa moved into first place with 78 points, but Powell isn’t counting on the Kiwis going away easily, especially with the series moving to Wellington, New Zealand, on Feb. 7 and 8. The All Blacks are the three-time defending series champion and own 11 of the 14 titles overall. South Africa is chasing its first title since 2009.
The U.S. closed the tournament with two fairly easy victories to win the Shield trophy, routing Spain after earlier beating Uruguay 28-14 in the semifinals. The Eagles’ victory over Spain was their first shutout since defeating Portugal 22-0 in the Shield final Oct. 13 in Australia.
They also recorded multiple victories at the USA Sevens for the first time since also going 3-3 in 2011 and taking the Shield title as well.
“We feel like we should’ve won all three of those games” the team lost, U.S. wing Carlin Isles said. “But we can’t dwell on that, so we just put it behind us.”
Perhaps finishing strong will propel a U.S. team that needed a boost. The Eagles are 14th in the standings, and only the top 14 are guaranteed a spot in all the tournaments next season.
If the U.S. played Spain every time, the Eagles probably would be fine. They beat Los Leones 31-10 on Saturday, and Spain currently is the team most in danger of being relegated, sitting at 15th in the standings.
The U.S. had Spain on its heels throughout, with Nick Edwards setting the tone with two long runs in the first half. His first was an 85-meter dash for a try, and his second one, a 50-meter run, set up the second try. Isles later added a 60-meter run for a try.
“For us, when we get them wide and basically make them come back to defend us, we’re very dangerous,” Edwards said. “Every single one of the guys on the team can make that big (85-meter) run.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.