USA wins in Vegas
For Argentina, it was a fourth appearance in the USA Sevens final, having won twice in the past. The United States, on the other hand, was in only its fourth ever final, and first at the USA Sevens. The two teams have become quite familiar with each other this season, set to meet for the fifth time in five tournaments. They first met in Dubai, with Argentina winning 22–14 to snap the Eagles winning streak that included 5 from 5 last season. Argentina then won again in Cape Town in the cup quarterfinal and again in the bronze-medal match in Sydney. The United States finally reversed the trend in the Challenge Trophy final in Hamilton.
Interestingly, this is not the first time the United States has defeated a team in the consolation final only to face that same team in the next leg of the series. In 2014–15, team USA defeated Australia in the bowl final in Tokyo then defeated Australia in the final of the London Sevens to claim the first cup victory for the United States.
The United States entered looking to break into elite company of nations to have won multiple cup titles. Only New Zealand (56), Fiji (32), South Africa (28), England (19), Samoa (10), Australia (7), Argentina (2), and Scotland (2) have reached that mark. Argentina’s two cup victories each came at the USA Sevens (2004 & 2009).
For team USA, cup finals have been rarities. The team first reached a final at the 2010 Australia Sevens after claiming the bowl that year in Las Vegas. The next appearance came in the 2015 London Sevens, in which the United States first laid claim to a cup. The third was at the 2017 Singapore Sevens when Canada edged by the United States (26–19) for Canada’s lone cup win in only its second attempt.
After both nations’ anthems, the match got underway with the United States kicking off. Martin Iosefo slapped the ball back and Ben Pinkelman scooped it up for team USA. The Argentine defense pushed the United States back inside its own ten-meter line and made things tough on the North Americans.The Eagles came just shy of midfield before a knock on by Matai Leuta gave Argentina its first chance at possession with a minute gone.
Argentina won the scrum and tested the right side of the defense. Finding no room, Argentina went left and, there, gave up a penalty at the USA ten-meter line. Folau Niua booted the ball to touch inside the Argentine ten. Danny Barret got his squad into the Argentine twenty-two and a rainbow pass out to Baker on the left wing got the crowd on its feet with a seven-pointer, capped off by Niua’s kick under the post. Niua chose to use the whole time to take the conversion, signalling a strategy of shortening the game to compensate for missing Maka Unufe after an injury to his knee in the semifinal victory.
An error was called on the restart for not going ten, giving Argentina a free kick. A penalty on Matai Leuta for a dangerous tackle, called by the A.R. took away a USA scrum, and gave Argentina a second chance inside the USA ten. Argentina then got to the twenty-two, then was penalized on the left side of the pitch.
Niua kicked the penalty to touch just shy of midfield, and the Eagles won the lineout throw. A breathtaking series with Danny Barrett drawing in the defense, dishing to Baker who put on video-game moves to spin through three tacklers then offload back to Barrett for a try under the post and Niua conversion to end the half in front 14–0.
Argentina began the second half by hammering the restart deep into the USA twenty-two. Kevon Williams was back to secure the possession. Iosefo found a gap and fed Barrett on the wing for his second try of the match. This one also yielded seven points with Niua’s conversion.
Argentina won the restart kick and faced a tough American defense, losing a penalty moments after crossing midfield. Niua kicked for touch to help chisel away at the clock. The Eagles won the lineout and worked the ball left to Martin Iosefo who took the contact with Baker on the wing. The ball worked back right where Ben Pinkelman tried to connect with Barrett on the wing. The pass was not taken in, giving Argentina scrum feed just inside its own half with 3:04 remaining.
Argentina won the scrum and again found meters hard to come by. A minute later, Danny Barrett forced a penalty turnover just inside the USA half to give his team the ball with 2:01 left. Exhausted, Barrett was replaced by Malon Al-Jibori and Carlin Isles came in for Iosefo. Niua kicked to touch giving the USA a lineout inside the Argentina twenty-two with 1:37 left.
After the United States won the lineout and Baker tried to connect with Isles on the left wing, leading to a knock at the Argentine ten-meter line, Argentina had a scrum. The Americans soon forced a turnover and got the ball to Carlin isles on the right wing for a try with twenty-three seconds left. And with Folau Niua’s fourth conversion of the match, it was done the USA now joins Argentina and Scotland as two-time cup victors.
It is also the second time this season that the home team has won the cup, the other being Australia in Sydney. It also marks the fifth different champion this year. And, importantly, the win sees the United States overtake England for sixth in the series standings.