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USA Sevens rugby team beats Samoa to repeat in Las Vegas

Updated March 3, 2019 - 7:36 pm

There’s something about that home cooking in Las Vegas.

The USA Sevens rugby team defended its title at the HSBC Las Vegas Invitational on Sunday, defeating Samoa in the Cup Final at Sam Boyd Stadium, 27-0.

“There’s something about singing your national anthem at home,” said Ben Pinkelman, who scored two trys in the final. “It’s so passionate. So emotional. It just gets everybody on the same page.”

The Americans won for the first time in making their fifth consecutive Cup Final to open the 2018-19 season. The Eagles lost the previous four finals — to New Zealand in Dubai and Sydney, and to Fiji in Cape Town and Hamilton, New Zealand.

Against the Samoans, Pinkelman finished the match’s first possession with a try. While the U.S. missed the 2-point kick after, it gave the Americans an early 5-0 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, the U.S. stole the possession back.

Matai Leuta paid off the turnover and the U.S. led 10-0 midway through the first half.

The Americans actually had an opportunity to extend the margin even more on the half’s final play, but Pinkelman was stopped. Captain Madison Hughes did extend the lead to open the second half, sprinting away from the Samoan defense to make it 17-0.

“We need to cherish it,” U.S. coach Mike Friday said. “After Friday, I was doubting it. We had to fight our way out of the group round.”

The U.S. was 5-1 overall for the weekend. Friday’s doubt came because of an upset loss to Argentina on the first day.

“But then we started layering performances that are more a part of our DNA,” Friday said. “I am immensely proud of them. But for me, I have to go back to work on Monday. We have to maintain our humility. This world series is gladiator. We want to finish in the top four, qualify for the Olympics. Anything else that comes after that is a bonus.”

The U.S. had not won a tournament since the Las Vegas event in 2018. Prior to that, the U.S. hadn’t won since 2015.

“We’ve always loved it here,” said Hughes, who missed last year’s victory due to injury. “The support is so amazing. We know it’s going to be hard going to the final every weekend. We just want to keep getting better.”

The Eagles advanced on Sunday with a 24-19 victory over New Zealand in the first semifinal. That victory ensured the U.S. would come out of the weekend alone on top of the world Series standings.

Samoa beat Argentina, 33-19, the other semifinal. The Americans beat the Argentines, which upset the Americans in pool play earlier in the tournament this year, for the title a year ago.

New Zealand and the U.S. came into the tournament tied for No. 1 in the world with 76 series points. Samoa reached the Cup Final with its 33-19 semifinal win over Argentina.

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