NZ men’s sevens seal Olympics spot, qualifying race tightens


The New Zealand men’s sevens rugby team has qualified for the Paris Olympic games after winning the Singapore leg of the World Series, following the New Zealand women’s team which qualified after winning in Sydney in January.

Both teams join France, who qualify automatically as hosts of the Olympic tournament.

The New Zealand men beat Argentina 19-17 to win in Singapore for the first time in 18 years, securing four tournament wins in a season for the first time since 2014. They now lead the World Series men’s standings by 24 points from Argentina with tournaments remaining in Toulouse and London.

Reigning Olympic champion Fiji is in third place, 34 points behind New Zealand, and France is fourth, 10 points ahead of fifth-place Australia. The top four-teams at the end of the Series automatically qualify for the Olympics. With France already qualified, Australia remains in contention for a place in Paris as do Samoa, who are one point behind Australia in sixth.

The New Zealand women’s team has won the last five World Series tournaments and leads the overall standings by 16 points from Australia, the 2016 Olympic champions. The women’s World Series ends with the Toulouse tournament from May 12 to 14.

New Zealand went into the men’s final in Singapore with the comfort of knowing it’s Olympic place was already safe. That was assured when Argentina beat Samoa in the semifinals, ensuring New Zealand couldn’t be displaced from the top four.

“All the boys know that we represent our families, our friends and everyone back in New Zealand,” New Zealand captain Dylan Collier said. “It was a huge effort these last two weeks and to go back-to-back is just an awesome effort.

“Our defense leads the way, that relentless effort, that energy and willingness to work for each other.”

The last two rounds of the Series likely will be nerve wracking for teams yet to qualify. Fiji improved its chances by grabbing third place in Singapore.

“My heart’s taken a hammering this week. Credit to the boys, they stuck at it,” Fiji coach Ben Gollings said. “We controlled it a lot better, we got the energy going at the end and got the victory we needed. It’s so key for points in this crazy Series we’re in at the moment.”

Australia beat Britain for fifth place in Singapore and stays in the race.

“It’s getting pretty tight for that last (Olympic) qualification spot,” Australia captain Nick Malouf said. “Every point is valuable for us.”

France also is fourth in the women’s standings, leaving an Olympic qualifying place in play in the Toulouse finale. New Zealand, Australia and the United States are safe. Two points separate Ireland, Fiji and Britain in fifth, sixth and seventh places and they will fight out the last qualifying spot.

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More AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


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