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Perry Baker crowned World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year again

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Stars from powers Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa won the male World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year, but only American Perry Baker has won it twice.

The speedy Olympian earned the title for a second straight season, despite missing the last two legs of the 10-stop World Series with a shoulder injury. He still ranked fourth in tries and 10th in points.

Baker, 32, reverted to rugby after a brief football career, failing a physical with the Philadelphia Eagles but playing two years in the Arena League as a wide receiver.

He made the national team in 2014 and in his second tournament scored a game-winning try in an upset of Fiji, which would go on to win the first Olympic men’s rugby sevens tournament in Rio.

Baker and the Americans placed ninth in Rio. They were fifth and sixth in the World Series the last two years, including a title in Las Vegas in March. Baker had the highlight of that leg, an end-to-end score in a 19-7 semifinal win over Fiji.

The U.S. went on to beat Argentina 28-0 in the final for its second leg victory in the near-20-year-history of the World Series, after winning in London in 2015.

Last season, Baker became the first U.S. player to lead the World Series in tries, after finishing second the previous campaign. He also had a leading 285 points (a try is worth five points).

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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New Zealand sweeps Rugby World Cup Sevens, celebrates with haka

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — New Zealand winger Akuila Rokolisoa took the offload from Trael Joass and split two English defenders. Seconds later he was somersaulting over the tryline with the ball, but he might as well have been carrying the Melrose Cup.

New Zealand rolled past England 33-12 on Sunday with a performance that featured speed, strength and a stout defense to repeat as Rugby World Cup Sevens champions and become the first three-time winner of the tournament.

The All Blacks Sevens players ripped off their shirts but kept their gold medals on for a celebratory post-match haka on the same field where the Black Ferns won the women’s competition less than 24 hours earlier. The results meant back-to-back World Cup doubles for the New Zealand teams.

“We were really proud of the girls how they played those two days,” New Zealand men’s sevens captain Scott Curry said. “It’s awesome to kind of simulate what they did earlier and go back-to-back for the first time ever. It’ll be good to go home with two World Cups, that’s for sure.”

Rokolisoa’s try with less than a minute left pushed New Zealand’s advantage to 14 points and Joass’ try on the final movement was merely an exclamation point to the match and the beginning of the celebration.

South Africa outlasted Olympic champion Fiji 24-19 to win the bronze after the tournament’s top two seeds were bounced in the semifinals.

Two-time reigning world series champions and top-seeded South Africa scored the opening try in its semifinal against England but was blanked the rest of the way in 29-7 loss. England needed overtime to beat the United States in the quarterfinals.

“Right now, it’s still hard,” English captain Tom Mitchell said shortly after losing to New Zealand. “You come into these tournaments wanting to be world champions. That’s why we’re all here. But I think we’ll look back at it and be proud of the effort the boys put in.”

The U.S. smothered Scotland 28-0 but tackled poorly and didn’t take care of the ball in a 33-7 loss to Argentina in the fifth-place game. Neither the American men nor women earned a medal at the Rugby Sevens global showcase but players and coaches agreed the three-day event, which sold more than 100,000 tickets, was important in raising USA Rugby’s profile. The sixth-place finish represents the best for the Eagles in a Sevens World Cup.

“It’s disappointing to end the weekend like that,” U.S. captain Madison Hughes said. “The energy of the crowd was just absolutely awesome all weekend.”

The knockout style of the tournament — a departure from the regular system of a group stage followed by knockouts — drew some criticism from coaches and players but World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper on Sunday said the organization will evaluate to see if the format could be used in future World Cups or world series events.

“This format lends itself very well to a combined tournament,” Gosper said. “We’d like to see the women playing with the men in the same stadium, and to do that you change some formats.”

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New Zealand repeats as Rugby World Cup Sevens champion; U.S. gets 4th

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Black Ferns stood shoulder to shoulder Saturday as their national anthem played and day turned to dusk by the San Francisco Bay. About 30 minutes later they stood shoulder to shoulder again, this time atop a podium with gold medals draped around their necks.

The final was one-way traffic as New Zealand blanked France 29-0 and became the first country to repeat as Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens champions.

Tournament high scorer Michaela Blyde added three more tries to her total as she finished with nine tries and 45 points. But this championship run was founded on a stout defense.

The World Cup concludes at the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park on Sunday with the final men’s rounds (TV schedule here).

The final marked the third shutout of the tournament for New Zealand after they outlasted host United States in a tense 26-21 semifinal win earlier in the day.

“To be here at a Rugby World Cup, come away with the win and retain the title_we’ve made history now,” Blyde. “We’re pretty happy with ourselves.”

Sixth-seeded France arrived in the final after stunning No. 2 seed Australia with a 19-12 win. France’s David Courteix was named coach of the tournament after leading his side past third-ranked Canada and Australia to reach the final.

“I’m very proud of the players each time,” Courteix said. “I think with the new (knockout) format there was a lot of pressure. I am very proud of their attitude.”

Australia edged USA 24-14 to claim the bronze medal with Elia Green scoring a brace of tries for the Olympic champions.

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