Series leaders South Africa suffered a shock loss to Kenya in the third leg of the International Rugby Board Sevens on Friday, forcing a showdown with arch-rivals New Zealand as early as the quarterfinals.
South Africa and New Zealand, who fought out the final of the last round of the Sevens series, both suffered upset pool-play losses as the form book went out the window.
The third member of rugby sevens’ holy trinity, Fiji, also suffered an upset defeat.
But while New Zealand, who lost to Wales 17-28, and Fiji, who went down to the United States 10-15, bounced back to win their pools, South Africa were relegated to second in their group after losing 17-22 to minnows Kenya.
In one of the closest rounds in the 10-year history of the sevens circuit, only Argentina in Pool C were unrivalled at the head of their group.
New Zealand and Fiji survived on points differential, which separated three-way ties at the top of Pools B and D, while Kenya tied with South Africa in Pool A but came out on top because of their head-to-head result.
The South Africans had been in commanding form in their first two matches as they dispatched Scotland 24-0 and Tonga 22-5 while barely breaking a sweat.
Then in their final match they ran up a 17-5 lead against their African colleagues before falling away.
Kenya levelled with two quick tries and a conversion in the second half before Collins Injera crossed the line for the match-winner on full time.
New Zealand suffered an agonising day after losing to Wales and had to wait until the final whistle of the final game of the day to know if they qualified for the second and final day.
Their problems against Wales were self-induced, with Tomasi Cama red-carded for punching in the second minute. Moments later they were reduced to five men when captain DJ Forbes was sin-binned for a deliberate foot trip.
In the meantime, Wales raced to a 28-5 lead before Forbes returned to help narrow the gap.
New Zealand bounced back to whip Niue 43-7 before cementing their place in the play-offs with a 26-19 win over Australia.
Argentina topped Pool C, beating England 13-7 in the crucial match to decide first and second and the victory set the Argentinians up for a quarterfinal clash against the United States while England have the more daunting opponent in Fiji.
The United States proved giant-killers with a late try to win against Fiji and beat the Cook Islands 41-0 before falling to Samoa 17-26 in Pool D.
Samoa and Fiji also beat the Cook Islands and the outcome of the pool came down to the final match where Fiji produced a 19-5 win over Samoa.
The Cup quarterfinals on Saturday see Kenya play Wales, New Zealand against South Africa, Argentina against the United States and Fiji play England. — AFP