No let up for the All Blacks Sevens in title race

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The All Blacks Sevens were the fifth winners from the five different tournaments played in the 2022-23 series when beating South Africa 38-0 on Sunday, but as a result of two runners-up results, New Zealand sits nine points clear of South Africa on the points table.

However, six more tournaments are still to be played, and with Olympic Games qualification as the primary goal, there is still plenty of room for upsets in the future. A maximum of 132 points are still up for grabs, and only 10 points separate third-placed Samoa from Ireland in ninth place.

The top four teams at the end will qualify for France 2024.

The USA offered a reminder of how quickly things can turn around. They were second going into the Sydney tournament but finished tenth to drop to seventh on the ladder.

When playing off for ninth place, they were beaten by Argentina, who had won the Hamilton tournament a week earlier.

If Australia, Ireland or the USA could achieve a podium finish in Los Angeles on February 25-26, they would be right back in the hunt for both the title and Olympic qualification.

South Africa was reeling after being unable to score in the final on Sunday.

Coach Sandile Ngcobo expected more from South Africa in the final, especially after being the All Blacks Sevens in pool play and beating Fiji in the semifinals.

"We lost the physical battle, and that reflects on our attitude in the final. We were not where we needed to be, and we were simply not good enough in the final to win," he said.

Injuries to key players were not an excuse.

However, he felt the team, which now sits second in the standings, was on an upward curve.

"If I look where we were when we started at the beginning of the year, how we improved from last week in Hamilton, and how we played here, that was massive, and those are the things coaches are looking for.

"We also had players coming back from injury and to see them perform well was another bonus for us. We are still growing as a group, and we will be looking to improve even more going into the next tournament in Los Angeles."

The Black Ferns are a little more comfortable. They have won three consecutive finals, with three more tournaments to play. Their immediate goal will be to wrap up 49 points in the remaining tournaments, starting in Vancouver on March 3.

As they contemplate Olympic qualification, they know they have a 26-point lead over fifth-placed Ireland and 42 points over Fiji and Britain in sixth and seventh place, respectively.


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