England beat hosts USA to advance to semis at RWC Sevens

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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.

New Zealand repeat as Women’s Rugby World Cup champions

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Black Ferns stood shoulder to shoulder Saturday as their national anthem played and day turned to dusk by the San Francisco Bay. About 30 minutes later they stood shoulder to shoulder again, this time atop a podium with gold medals draped around their necks.

The final was one-way traffic as New Zealand blanked France 29-0 and became the first country to repeat as Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens champions.

Tournament high scorer Michaela Blyde added three more tries to her total as she finished with nine tries and 45 points. But this championship run was founded on a stout defense. The final marked the third shutout of the tournament for New Zealand after they outlasted host United States in a tense 26-21 semifinal win earlier in the day.

“To be here at a Rugby World Cup, come away with the win and retain the title_we’ve made history now,” Blyde. “We’re pretty happy with ourselves.”

Sixth-seeded France arrived in the final after stunning No. 2 seed Australia with a 19-12 win. France’s David Courteix was named coach of the tournament after leading his side past third-ranked Canada and Australia to reach the final.

“I’m very proud of the players each time,” Courteix said. “I think with the new (knockout) format there was a lot of pressure. I am very proud of their attitude.”

Australia edged USA 24-14 to claim the bronze medal with Elia Green scoring a brace of tries for the Olympic champions.

No major upsets with new format at Rugby World Cup Sevens

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The new knockout format didn’t claim any major upset victims during the first day of the Rugby World Cup Sevens on Friday.

The 24-team men’s field has been reduced to quarterfinalists while the 16-team women’s tournament will be decided among New Zealand, Australia, the United States and France on Saturday.

Siviwe Soyizwapi scored four tries to lead top men’s seed South Africa past Ireland 45-7, while No. 3 New Zealand dominated Russia 29-5 in its bid to become the first three-time men’s Rugby World Cup Sevens champions.

Second-seeded Fiji received a tough early test from Japan but pulled away with a relentless second half in a 35-10 win. Fiji coach Gareth Baber said his team isn’t viewing the World Cup as a bounce-back opportunity after the side lost its grasp on the World Series title last month.

“We had our disappointment with that,” Baber said. “But as a sportsperson you put that to bed and you move on to what the next job is.”

Reigning World Series player of the year Perry Baker scored two tries of 60-plus meters for the host American side in a 35-0 blanking of Wales. USA won their only World Series event earlier this year in front of their home fans in Las Vegas.

“You can’t help but love that and get that boost,” Baker said after taking a victory lap around AT&T Park, home of baseball’s San Francisco Giants.

“After winning Vegas, that shows we can win a tournament. After we won that, everybody was saying, ‘These guys got a chance to win the World Cup.’ People started really believing us and it shows that they showed up tonight to support us.”

No. 1 women’s seed New Zealand followed up a 57-0 win over Mexico in their opener with a 45-0 drubbing of an upstart Ireland squad that defeated England 19-14 earlier in the day. Michaela Blyde led all players with five tries in the two blowout wins for the Black Ferns, who won the Rugby Sevens World Cup in 2013 and will face USA in Saturday’s semifinals.

“Most of the crowd will be against us,” Blyde said. “We’re used to those sort of environments. It definitely brings out their strengths.”

Speedy wing Naya Tapper sparked the Americans with early breakaway scores in both of her side’s victories on Friday. USA also muscled their way past Russia for a couple of late tries in a 33-17 win.

“If you look our team, we got speedsters but we also got people who are just plowing through people,” Tapper said. “We got everything that you could possibly dream of. As long as we do what we need to do to…we’re unstoppable.”

If they get past the United States, the Black Ferns could be headed for another high-profile collision with archrival Australia in Saturday night’s final. The Australians outscored their opponents a combined 69-5 in their two Friday victories to earn a semifinal date with sixth-seeded France, which outlasted No. 3 seed Canada 24-19 in a tightly contested quarterfinal.