SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — English captain Tom Mitchell found some space on the pitch about 30 meters away from the try line. He glanced to his left and saw a big patch of open field so he lofted a high kick toward the sideline.
Phil Burgess did the rest.
The English flanker caught the ball at full pace and outran a diving defender before touching down to secure a 24-19 sudden-death win in extra-time against host United States in the Rugby World Cup Sevens quarterfinals on Saturday.
“A ridiculous kick by ‘Mitch’ in that kind of cauldron,” said teammate Dan Norton.
England needed extra time to win after Perry Baker streaked down the field to score a match-leveling try with about 2:30 left in regulation time. After winning the Las Vegas leg of the Rugby Sevens World Series earlier this year, USA entered with title aspirations and enjoyed the support of a raucous home crowd at AT&T Park, home to baseball’s San Francisco Giants, but can now finish no better than fifth.
“We pride ourselves on being best in the world at the restart,” said American prop Danny Barrett, “but they got us there.”
Burgess’ try marked the most scintillating sequence of Saturday’s action.
England’s win sends them to Sunday’s first semifinal against top seed South Africa, which cruised to a 36-5 win over Scotland, which second-seeded Fiji dominated Argentina 43-7 in another quarterfinal.
Third-seeded New Zealand overcame three first-half yellow cards to prevent an upset from No. 11 seed France in a sloppy 12-7 victory.
“We played terrible,” All Blacks coach Clark Laidlaw said. “But in knockout format, who cares? We managed to find a way to win.”
The All Blacks won’t be able to get away with the same mistakes against a humming Fiji squad in Sunday’s semifinal. Fiji and New Zealand are both vying to become the first three-time winners of the Melrose Cup.
“They’ve got a lot of rockstars in there,” Laidlaw said. “I guess everybody sees them as favorites.”
South Africa claimed their second straight world series title in June after leaping past Fiji on the final day of action and the two could meet in Sunday’s final. The Blitzboks feature the tournament’s top two scorers in Siviwe Soyizwapi (25 points) and Justin Gedlund (22).
Each of the 24 men’s squads only played one match on Saturday. Laidlaw criticized the format of the tournament and how his team will only play one match in a span of about 40 hours.
“Not sevens is it?” Laidlaw said. “I don’t know what sport we’re trying to create. But it’s the same for everybody, so we’ve got to get on with it.”
New Zealand repeated as world cup champions on the women’s side of the tournament with a 29-0 victory over France while Australia topped the United States 24-14 in the bronze medal game.