Argentina put the past behind them, New Zealand reign supreme
Argentina clinched the men’s title they missed out on four years earlier, while New Zealand took gold after a keenly contested tournament. France were on the losing end in both finals.
The Argentine men’s team held most of their training sessions leading up to Buenos Aires 2018 on the field at CASI La Boya. It was in the same location, but this time with the stands packed with elated fans, that Los Pumitas (Little Pumas) fulfilled their dream and added another gold to Argentina’s medal count.
"This is due to the extraordinary work we did in recent years. In the game against France we put into practice what we do in all the training camps. We are very happy. Now we can enjoy it," said Tomas Vanni after his team’s golden triumph.
Los Pumitas beat Les Bleuets 24-14 in the final to end the championship undefeated. The victory also doubled as long-awaited revenge on the defeat they suffered at the hands of the French during the Nanjing 2014 final. The home team were dominant on their path to gold: 50-7 against Samoa, 45-0 against Japan, 29-12 against France, 34-5 against South Africa and 22-14 against the United States in the group stage.
And the Argentines did not waver in the final either, leaving their opponents with no chance. Ignacio Mendy’s early try was followed by one from Lucio Cinti Luna, and another from Nicolás Roger, to end the first half at 19-0. France tried to respond in the second period, with Joachim Trouabal touching down with two tries to peg the score back to 19-12. But Ramiro Costa scored right on time to secure Argentina the gold medal.
"I was watching the clock run down. There were just 30 seconds to go and we were leading by 10 points. That was when I said to myself that the gold medal was ours. Then the match ended and I started shouting and jumping about all over the place,” explained Argentine player Marcos Moneta, adding that he and his team-mates had managed to block out any negative thoughts linked to their cruel defeat in 2014 when, having led 12-0 at half-time, Argentina were ultimately beaten 45-22 by France. “We didn’t think about it so that it wouldn’t affect our morale, but I think that each of the 12 players in our team was aware of what had happened."
"There are no words to describe this moment. It’s something that doesn’t happen every day. The key was in the group and the location helped us a lot too," said Argentina’s Bautista Pedemonte.
"It's a huge relief after three years of sacrifice and this team deserves the gold medal," added his team-mate Julián Hernández.
Coach Lucas Borges, a former Argentine international winger who helped the Pumas finish third in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, praised his team: "I feel a great joy because the boys exceeded expectations. They showed everything they had done in the practices on the field. Now each one is going to go on his journey to continue representing the Argentinian jersey."
Japan completed the podium in the men's rugby sevens tournament after beating South Africa 28-5 in the bronze-medal match.
New Zealand fight back in the final
Kicking off their campaign on 13 October with a 53-0 defeat of Tunisia, New Zealand eased to four more comfortable wins to top the women’s section in Buenos Aires with a 100 per cent record. Facing them in the final on 15 October were France. Argentina got off to a flying start, as tries from Montessa Tairakena and Iratana Hoaia shot them into a 10-0 lead after only four minutes. France hit back through a converted Alycia Christiaens try in the seventh minute, and Les Bleues had moved within three points of their opponents (10-7) by half-time, placing New Zealand in an unfamiliar position.
Speaking afterwards, New Zealand’s Tiana Davison described how the tournament favourites managed to turn the game around. "Whenever we lose momentum we get together, take three deep breaths and get in a huddle. It’s our way of keeping calm and trying to regroup as sisters and connect with each other as the All Blacks we are." This time, the circumstances called for an extended ritual. "Today we had to take six deep breaths. We did three extra ones just to make sure that everything was in place."
Initially, this did not have the desired impact; France moved ahead (12-10) when Lucy Hapulat dotted down for a try two minutes into the second half. The Black Ferns were not to be denied, however, with Mahina Paula going over for the gold medal-winning try two minutes later, taking the score to 15-12.
"It’s an unreal feeling to be with these girls. It’s just amazing. I love it," said Davison. “We really came into our own in the heat here today. It’s been great. We’re like sisters. We’ve got a great rapport and that’s allowed us to work together and reach the top with this great result. Now it’s time for us to go and party!"
Canada edged out Colombia 24-19 in an exciting bronze-medal match, with Carmen Izyk scoring the winning try for the Canadians with less than a minute left on the clock.