Rugby Sevens World Series
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World Rugby Sevens Series ends early due to coronavirus pandemic

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The World Rugby Sevens Series, the top tour for the discipline that debuted at the Olympics in 2016, canceled this season’s remaining stops in September and October, prematurely ending the 2019-20 campaign due to the coronavirus pandemic.

New Zealand led the women’s and men’s standings a little more than halfway through each season and have been awarded the titles. The U.S. women finished fifth and the men seventh, one year after each team registered program-best second-place finishes.

Full standings: Men | Women

“While it is very disappointing for players, fans, organizers and everyone involved to have to cancel these events due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the health and well-being of the rugby community and wider society remains the number one priority,” World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said in a press release. “These difficult decisions have been taken following detailed consultation with our union partners and in line with advice from the various government and public health agencies around the world, given the global nature of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.”

The last 2019-20 season stops were originally scheduled for April and May. Those events — Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, London and Paris — were postponed to September and October due to the virus before being canceled altogether in Tuesday’s announcement.

The season ended after five of eight women’s events and six of 10 men’s events.

The 2020-21 World Series schedule has not been announced. The last two women’s seasons began in October. The men’s season traditionally begins in late November/early December.

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Olympic rugby champion arrested for breaking coronavirus quarantine

Semi Kunatani
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Fiji Rugby Union has criticized two of its top professional players who have been arrested for failing to self-isolate amid the coronavirus pandemic after returning to Fiji from overseas.

Fiji media named one of the players as backrower Semi Kunatani who plays for the London-based Harlequins club. He was a member of the Fiji Olympic champion sevens team from the Rio Games. The other player has not yet been named.

Both players returned to Fiji via Singapore. They were arrested for failing to observe a 14-day quarantine designed the prevent the spread of Covid-19. Fiji has reported 12 cases.

“We strongly condemn the behavior of these two players and their disregard for lawful instructions to self-isolate themselves,” said John O’Connor, chief executive or Fiji rugby.

“Such irresponsible behavior is totally unacceptable and we support the actions of the police in arresting these two players and any further action taken against them. Fiji Rugby will take appropriate disciplinary actions against the professional rugby players, including reporting this highly irresponsible behavior to their clubs and World Rugby.”

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama highlighted the case of the players during his regular news briefing on Sunday.

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U.S. women’s rugby moving into role of Olympic favorites

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The U.S. women picked up where they left off in the World Rugby Sevens Series on Sunday, winning the first event of the 2019-20 series at home in Glendale, Colo.

While the score in the final (26-7 over Australia) looked convincing, the path to victory was bumpy. The U.S. dropped a group-stage game 24-14 to France, then capped a quarterfinal rally over Canada in spectacular fashion when Cheta Emba raced more than half the length of the field for a last-second try and a 29-26 win.

The semifinal with New Zealand went back and forth, with Lauren Doyle making a clutch defensive play and a late try to stake the U.S. to a 19-12 lead. New Zealand scored a last-second try to cut it to 19-17, but the U.S. defense forced New Zealand wide to try the game-tying conversion from an acute angle, and the kick went wide.

The final against Australia was tied until just before halftime, when Ilona Maher forced the ball over the line for a 12-7 U.S. lead. Nicole Heavirland accounted for all of the scoring in the second half with two tries and a conversion.

Last year, the U.S. took second place in the season-opening event in Glendale and took three third-place finishes before winning the season-ending tournament in Biarritz, France. The women finished second on the season, clinching a berth in the 2020 Olympics.

The U.S. also has a strong presence in men’s sevens. The men’s team matched the women by finishing second overall last season after holding the lead late in the series, ensuring their presence in Tokyo next summer. The men’s 2019-20 World Series starts later in the year.

Rugby union’s traditional 15-a-side game, like soccer and cricket, has a richer history in Europe and several Southern Hemisphere nations than it has in the United States. The U.S. men have only won three World Cup games in their history and are currently laboring through the Group of Death in this year’s Cup.

The women, like their soccer counterparts, gained a head start on countries that have less of a women’s sports tradition, winning the first World Cup in 1991 and taking second place in 1994 and 1998. But with other countries catching up, the women didn’t reach the semifinals again until 2017, when they lost to France 31-23 in the bronze medal game.

Sevens has been played since the late 19th century, but international play only ratcheted up 20 years ago with the introduction of the World Series. The women’s series launched in 2012.

The 2018-19 season was the best in U.S. women’s sevens history. Until then, the best U.S. finish was fourth in the inaugural, abbreviated World Series of 2012-13. The men also had bounced around fifth and sixth place overall for a few seasons before finishing second last year.

Both teams will be hoping to improve on their performances from 2016, when rugby sevens debuted in the Olympics. The men opened with a 26-0 rout over host Brazil but gave up a last-second lead against Argentina and wound up missing out on the quarterfinals by a single point. The women reached the quarterfinals but were shut out 5-0 by New Zealand.

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