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Feb 5, 2004

Argentina Downs New Zealand in Historic USA 7s Win

(Los Angeles, California) 15 February -- Second-half tries from Santiago Cruz and Lucio Lopez Fleming lifted Argentina to a 21-12 win over New Zealand and the inaugural Team Roc USA 7s title in Los Angeles.

Tied 7-7 at half, the Pumas surged ahead thanks in part to lively work from Pablo Gomez Cora, who figured twice in Cruz's 12th-minute score, converted by Andres Romagnoli. Replacement Tanerau Latimer brought the Kiwis back to within 21-12 with 2 minutes to go, but Argentina's defense held firm, particularly by slowing Kiwi possession.

Francisco Bosch opened the scoring with a mesmerizing 50-meter dash to the line two minutes into the contest. Liam Messam answered to knot the final, played before a boisterous crowd of 8,337.

The win is Argentina's first-ever World Sevens Series title and lifts Argentina to fifth place in the standings. Meanwhile, New Zealand extended its lead over second-place England, who claimed the Plate championship with a 55-0 win over Canada.

Argentina's triumph also is its first 7s Series victory over the Kiwis in 23 tries. Last December, the Pumas came within two points at the South Africa 7s.

The difference was \"we could maintain possession and mental control in the last two minutes,\" said coach Hernan Rocha.

So too Argentina's nail-biting semifinal win over Samoa. Prop Juan Ignacio Gauthier tallied in overtime to give the Pumas a 17-12 win. In the second semifinal, replacement Rudi Wulf plunged over after the buzzer for the third of three unanswered tries in New Zealand's 15-12 victory over archrival Fiji.

While Argentina took the honors, American rugby may have been the real winner at the inaugural LA 7s.

More than 15,000 turned out to watch the World Sevens Series on its first-ever North American tour stop.  That's not enough for USA Rugby to cover costs, but second-year chief executive Doug Arnot and newly installed operations director Dan Lyle firmly believe the LA 7s is an golden opportunity to market rugby in America.

Unlike one-off 15s internationals played in ill-fitting venues, the two-year Home Depot Center is a modern, 27,000-seat soccer stadium that rugby can grow into.

\"We know there's good things ahead of us based on our first year,\" Lyle said. \"We accomplished a good deal with a short runway plus a steep takeoff.\"

As with other first-year 7s Series venues, management expect attendance to grow rapidly in the next two years. In addition to its expanding population of registered rugby players -- now gaining fastest among university and youth players -- USA Rugby hopes to tap into LA's large expatriate communities. Argentine, Fijian, New Zealand, and Samoan fans were particularly in evidence this weekend.

For the most part, the \"hometown\" fans saw their teams through to the Cup semis. In the top half of the bracket, Argentina moved smartly past France 17-0, while Kueli Danielson's overtime try propelled Samoa past Canada 15-10.

Fiji's 22-14 defeat of South Africa was temporarily in question after a sin-binned player was later discovered to have scored a try just 30 seconds after his ordering off. New Zealand's 22-0 win over England was more decisive.

In first-day action, Mussolini Schuster's 12-minute try lifted Samoa to a 19-17 win over England. The upset dropped the tournament co-favorites into a quarterfinal matchup with New Zealand. Meanwhile, Argentina comprehensively defeated Fiji 33-5, five tries to one, packing the bottom half of Sunday's draw with New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa, and England.

In the Bowl championship, Australia edged crowd favorites Kenya 33-31 after a last-minute conversion sailed wide. America's try at the buzzer gave the hosts a 29-22 Shield win over South Korea.

England's Ben Gollings led tournament scoring with 61 points, and passed South Africa's Earl Rose to take the 7s series lead with 225. Fabian Juries of South Africa and Park Kwang-Soo of South Korea each scored 7 tries, one more than three players who scored six, including Kenya's Oscar Osir Osula, the competition front-runner with 22 tries, one more than Gollings.