Americans defend title at Las Vegas Sevens tournament

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Ben Pinkleman scored two tries as the United States beat Samoa 27-0 on Sunday to defend its Las Vegas Sevens title and move clear atop the standings in the World Rugby Sevens Series.

After losing a match in pool play, the Americans swept through the playoff rounds to reach their fifth straight Cup grand final, going on to end a run of four consecutive Cup Final defeats.

The United States won the Las Vegas title for the first time last season, leading to an outpouring of emotion from players and fans. The team’s massive home support was evident again Sunday as fans flooded onto the field after the final whistle to mob the players in scenes unmatched at any other stop on the sevens tour.

Mounted police watched as fans and players embraced, then “bounced” in tight groups, a new celebration ritual among the American team’s supporters.

The United States beat Argentina 28-0 in last year’s title, and almost repeated that scoreline against Samoa in another emphatic victory.

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Pinkleman, whose fans wear pink replicas of his jersey, touched down in the second minute and from then on it was one-way traffic.

Matai Leuta was in outstanding form for the United States and featured in the first three tries. He grabbed the turnover which led to Pinkleman’s opening try, then touched down himself to give the home team a 10-0 lead at halftime.

Leuta was prominent again in the buildup to a try by captain Madison Hughes in the first minute of the second half which took the game almost beyond Samoa’s reach.

Pinkleman scored his second try with a minute remaining and Marceo Brown touched down after the fulltime siren.

Samoa, which has lost four of its last seven Cup final appearances, seemed bent on playing a tight game on Sunday, taking the ball into contact early. But that approach, based around short passes and big collisions, led to turnovers which allowed the U.S. to dominate possession.

The Americans set out to move the ball wide, using long passes to create gaps on the flanks. However, the ball didn’t run for its star sprinter Carlin Isles, who had only one run in space.

“If we were going to win any of (the finals), the one at home was the one we wanted,” Hughes said. “It feels so good.

“I’m just so proud. The first day didn’t quite go the way we wanted it to but in the quarterfinal, semifinal and final there was just such good buy-in from the lads.”

The Americans beat defending world series champion South Africa 29-10 in the quarterfinals, then edged New Zealand, the series co-leader at the start of the tournament, 24-19 in the semis.

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Samoa beat Australia 21-20 in the quarters and Argentina 33-19 in the semifinals.

The United States now lead the World Series standings with 98 points, three clear of New Zealand. The next round is in Vancouver starting Friday.

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