Thirty-somethings Hooper and Baker make their mark at the Hong Kong Sevens

HONG KONG (AP) — Two thirty-somethings, one of them a rugby sevens great and the other a rookie, made their mark at the Hong Kong Sevens on Friday.

Newcomer Michael Hooper, switching from a 125-test career in 15s to try and win an Olympic medal at 32, came off the bench twice for Australia.

The great Perry Baker helped the United States win both pool games, scoring three tries at age 37 against runaway series leader Argentina and Britain.

The U.S., titleholder New Zealand, South Africa and France were the only unbeaten men's teams on day one and qualified for the quarterfinals.

Argentina, which came to Hong Kong with a chance to clinch its first world series, lost to the U.S. 14-10 and New Zealand 22-0 and was in jeopardy of missing a quarterfinal for the first time in 12 tournaments and 15 months. Argentina must beat Britain on Saturday and depend on other results.

On the women's side, defending champion New Zealand and series leader Australia were unbeaten and on course for a rematch in the final.

A circuit player for nearly 10 years, Baker scored against Argentina after only 57 seconds, taking advantage of opposite Marcos Moneta receiving medical attention for a right leg issue that would keep out the former world player of the year for the rest of the day. Baker then intercepted on defense and sprinted 94 meters to make it 14-0. Argentina rallied but the U.S. defense held out.

Baker scored down his wing again — his 283rd try, men's second most all-time in the series — when the U.S. beat Britain 26-14.

Argentina also lost again in a thumping from New Zealand but had a remarkable moment when Santiago Vera Feld didn't give up on a play. Moses Leo crossed the tryline but tried throwing the ball inside to Joe Webber, who was closer to the posts. But Vera Feld touched back the ball and beat Webber to it in goal.

Leo made up for the embarrassment. His rip launched the first try and he scored the second try. Tone Ng Shiu bagged the third try and Cody Vai scored after the fulltime hooter to cap the surprising rout.

Hooper, the Wallabies' longest-serving captain, turned to sevens after he was controversially left out of the Rugby World Cup in the autumn. Australia led Fiji 12-0 when he was introduced with just over two minutes left. The forward made consecutive tackles to force a knock-on, conceded a penalty, but ended Fiji's last threat with a typical jackal.

“Being on the bench, it was new to me,” Hooper said. “I was very nervous.”

He was late on again as Australia led France 14-5, but couldn't stop France scoring two late converted tries, the last by Nelson Epee after the hooter, to win 19-14.

South Africa, under new interim coach Philip Snyman, overcame a Justin Geduld red card to hold off in-form Ireland 22-17.

The Irish rebounded against Samoa. A Samoa lineout overthrow and Irish quick-tapped penalty set up Zac Ward to score in the right corner and break a 7-7 tie.


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