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Samoa tops Kiwis in championship

The United States wasn’t the only country that fed off the crowd Sunday at the USA Sevens rugby tournament at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Samoa also was inspired by the 18,000 fans in attendance and was made to feel right at home in Las Vegas — especially after it beat New Zealand 33-12 in the Cup final for its fourth title in the 11-year history of the Sevens World Series.

Shortly after Mikaele Pesamino sealed the victory for Samoa with his second interception return for a try, hundreds of fans stormed the field to celebrate with the squad, which sprayed champagne on each other and later performed a ”Manu” Samoan war dance.

The ”boys” really rose to the occasion because of the Samoan support they received while in Las Vegas, Samoan coach Steven Betham said.

”Not only that, but our people back in Samoa had a disaster, a tsunami (and they also were devastated by the earthquake in Haiti), and the boys really wanted to win to give back to the people,” he said.

Pesamino, who led the tournament with 11 tries, picked off a pass late in the first half and returned it for a try to give Samoa a 14-7 halftime lead and it never trailed again.

”Mistakes cost us in the game,” New Zealand’s Fritz Lee said. ”They converted our mistakes into points and it was hard to catch up with them.”

Samoa, which went 6-0 in the tournament, came from behind to beat Wales 17-10 in the quarterfinals and also rallied to beat Australia 14-12 in the semifinals.

New Zealand topped South Africa 12-5 in the quarters and clipped Kenya 21-7 in the semifinals.

South Africa, the defending Sevens World Series champions, edged Fiji 12-7 in the Plate final for quarterfinal losers. In the bottom eight bracket, the United States beat France 28-17 in the Bowl final and Scotland topped Japan 17-7 in the Shield final.

”I said before the tournament I can’t promise the fans a Cup win yet, but I can promise our guys will never give up,” U.S. coach Al Caravelli said.

France took a 5-0 lead on a try by Yohann Duruquet about a minute into the final, but Matt Hawkins powered his way into the tryzone about five minutes later. Nese Malifa added a conversion kick to give the U.S. a 7-5 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Nick Edwards sprinted about 50 yards up the middle for a try to give the U.S. a 14-5 halftime lead. France closed to 14-10 early in the second half on a try by Samy Ben Letaief, but Hawkins scored his second try of the game, after a long run by Marco Barnard, to extend the lead to 21-10.

France again pulled within four, at 21-17, on a try by Gaetan Germain, but the U.S. answered 43 seconds later as Malifa scored a try and the conversion to seal the win.

”We really came out and played for each other,” said Barnard, whose father died suddenly Wednesday. The U.S. team hoisted Barnard onto their shoulders after their emotional win over France.

”These guys are like brothers to me,” Barnard said.

The victory also was emotional for U.S. team captain Kevin Swiryn, who proposed after the match to Lauren Shaughnessy, a player on the U.S. women’s rugby squad.

Las Vegas, which hosted the seventh annual tournament for the first time after past stops in Los Angeles and San Diego, drew rave reviews.

”If you compare this to the first year it took place in L.A. and the first year it was in San Diego, I think Las Vegas blows it away,” Caravelli said.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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