New Zealand and South Africa on course in Tokyo Sevens
Table-topping New Zealand edged Canada 22-17 in a cliffhanger to reach the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Sevens as group winners on Saturday.
South Africa, two points behind the All Blacks Sevens with four rounds remaining and looking to reach their fifth successive final, kept pace with a perfect three wins of their own, capped by a commanding 28-12 victory over Argentina.
Defending series champions New Zealand, wearing black armbands in memory of recently deceased former All Blacks captain Frank Oliver, crushed Wales 43-5 thanks to a hat-trick of Tim Mikkelson tries before bulldozing Portugal 40-7.
But after Canadian captain John Moonlight had crashed over for his third try of a pulsating evening clash, Bryce Heem came to New Zealand’s rescue, touching down in the corner after the final buzzer for his second try of the match.
New Zealand, who face Australia in the last eight after topping group A, raised their game after a half-time rocket from coach Gordon Tietjens as the 11-times world series champions side trailed 12-5.
South Africa coach Neil Powell admitted the “Blitzbokke” will also have to step up a gear when they face surprise package the United States in Sunday’s quarter-finals.
“We’ll be in trouble if we don’t pitch up,” Powell said. “They will have nothing to lose. The boys will have to pick up their performance.”
Powell refused to look beyond the Eagles, who finished second behind Fiji in group C after a brave 19-19 draw against the Pacific islanders and a 24-17 upset of Samoa, leaving France bottom and dumped out of the Cup competition for the fourth time this season.
“It’s important to get through the next game,” added Powell, whose team beat Kenya 26-12 and hosts Japan 33-5 without ever hitting their stride. “It’s important to focus on the process.”
Dubai winners Fiji, third in the standings but 26 points adrift of New Zealand’s haul of 99, struggled past France 22-19 in the day’s opener but found form by thrashing Samoa 33-7 and will play Kenya in the knockout stage.
England looked arguably the strongest side, demolishing Scotland 36-0 and lowly Spain 29-0 before a dramatic 24-21 win over Australia in group D set up a meeting with Canada.
Australia captain Ed Jenkins let his side down by getting himself sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, allowing Phil Burgess to score the go-ahead try on the power-play at the death.
Japan, tuning up for next week’s World Series promotion play-offs in Hong Kong and with one eye on the 2016 Olympic qualifiers, gained a creditable 14-14 draw with Argentina and claimed the try of the day, an outrageous airborne effort from Jamie Henry while being shoved into touch in their defeat by South Africa.