If you wanted a lot of fans in the stands, you could hardly pick two better teams for the USA 7s final than Samoa and New Zealand. Only the USA could surpass these two teams in popularity.
The final did not disappoint, as two physical, speedy and artistic teams met for a chance to take home the cup, and battled until after full time. Samoa ended up winning the 2012 USA 7s, 26-19, on a try after the hooter went.
It was appropriate that two of the most physical, redoubtable team leaders – DJ Forbes for New Zealand and Alafoti Faosiliva – should face off in the tight confines of Sam Boyd Stadium. This final did not promise a lot of points, but it did promise plenty of passion and hard work.
It was passion and hard work that got Samoa their first try. From a scrum at midfield Samoa attacked wide. Afa Aiono pulled a few tacklers with him, and then Alatasi Tupou zipped and darted his way through the New Zealand line. Soon Tupou was back in action, again, changing direction constantly. He flipped a pass that rolled on the ground, but Faosiliva gathered it up and fromt short range with a head of steam, no one was going to stop the big man.
New Zealand was happy to reply. They worked their way left, and then right, and repeated until Samoa was leaving just enough space on the outside for Charles Piutau, playing in an un-numbered jersey, to round the corner and touch down in the corner. Samoa 5 New Zealand 5 with two mintues left in the ten-minute first half.
A little razzle dazzle from New Zealand then backfired. Tomasi Cama, their excellent playmaker, swerved outside, faked a scissor move and then offloaded to, it ended up, no one. The ball bounced kindly for Samoa’s Paul Perez, and he got on his horse and was gone for 50 meters. Uale Mai hit the conversion and Samoa led 12-5. Aiono almost made it 17-5 off the restart, but was just thrown into touch to end the half.
Samoa received the ball in the second half and put together as pretty na sequence as you ever want to see. Tupou and Aiono combined from some slick handling, and then after Perez got the Samoans going forward again, they linked up again up the middle before Faatoina Autagavaia nabbed a pass one-handed and was in under the posts.
Up 19-5 Samoa still had more than a normal half of rugby to play, so they couldn’t sit on the lead. Puitau and Forbes combined to work New Zealand into the Samoan 22, but the players in blue were up to the challenge.
New Zealand came close through Waisake Naholo, but he was just pushed into touch, and Samoa attacked into New Zealand territory once more. But with two minutes remaining New Zealand got a penalty in the ruck (an area of contention for many of the coaches this tournament) and Tomasi Cama tapped and raced through a gap for a 55-meter try. Conversion good and suddenly it was 19-12.
And then it was 19-19. Faosiliva tried to catch the restart and tipped it into touch instead. From the lineout New Zealand worked the ball and Lote Raikabula offloaded out of the tackle to the onrushing Ardie Savea. He stepped out of a tackle and was gone under the posts.
Now with the game deadlocked it came down to one more play. Samoa took a scrum ten meters inside their own half.
That’s all they needed. Samoa took their time. Robert Lilomaiava danced past one tackler and was just caught. But he recycled quickly and Samoa sent hands out to the wing. There stood Faosiliva, who took off down the sideline, brushed off one defender and just stretched over the line to score the winning try.
Mai hit the touchline conversion, but that was irrelevant, Samoa were champions for the second time in three years in Las Vegas.
It was a brilliant performance by Samoa. They were inconsistent at times early on, but certainly found their voice, and it was a loud, loud voice.
Tries: Faosiliva 2, Perez, Autagavaia
Convs: Mai 3
New Zealand 19
Tries: Piutau, Cama, Savea
Convs: Cama 2