LAS VEGAS – New Zealand’s quest for a third straight World Rugby Sevens Series tournament triumph ended Saturday as they fell 14-7 to South Africa in a heavyweight quarter-final clash in Las Vegas.
Speedy Seabelo Senatla scored a first half double to give South Africa a 14-0 lead at the interval. Lewis Ormond pulled a try back in the second half, but New Zealand couldn’t find another try.
South Africa, winners on home soil in Cape Town this season and three-time winners of the Las Vegas crown, will take on Australia, who defeated Argentina 26-12 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The win over the Pumas came after a 36-7 pool triumph over England in which Wallabies fly-half Quade Cooper scored his first sevens try for Australia.
Cooper is among the 15-a-side stars chasing berths in their country’s Rio Olympic squads as rugby’s return to the Games puts the spotlight on the sevens format.
New Zealand, who roared into the fifth stop in the 10-tournament series off of wins in Wellington and Sydney, saw their hopes start to unravel with a shock 22-0 loss to Kenya in their final pool match Saturday.
“Getting one over on the big boys is exciting for us,” Kenya’s Collins Injera said after the upset gave them a perfect pool record.
But there was heartache in store as the United States delighted their home fans with a 26-14 quarter-final win over the Kenyans.
“It was important for me and the team that we came out and we made a statement in front of our home crowd,” said US coach Mike Friday.
Tries from Danny Barrett and Perry Baker put the hosts ahead early.
Kenya answered with tries from Injera and Billy Odhiambo to knot the score at 14-14 at the break, but Martin Iosefo and Zack Test delivered second-half tries to secure the victory for the United States.
“We thoroughly deserved that victory,” Friday said. “We’ve only got 10 fit players and they’re hanging in there and they are working hard for one another.”
The US earned a semi-final clash with powerful Fiji, who overwhelmed Japan 43-7 in a dominant performance that featured seven tries — two of them from Jasa Veremalua.
Japan had booked their first Cup quarter-final in almost a year with a 26-19 win over Scotland.
But they were out-classed by Fiji — who opened the defence of their series title with a win in Dubai and are the defending Las Vegas champions.