Seven: the return of Franco Sábato underpins the replacement of the Pumas 7s, who are going for the title in Malaga
He came back the way he likes the most: scoring tries. Two achievements of Franco Sabato paved the way for Cougars 7s at Sevens of Malaga, third stage of the World Tour. After two years without participating in the biggest circus and without having played a minute in Tokyo 2020, one of the best Argentine players in the specialty returned at a key moment for the team, with several replacement rugbiers and the possibility of going back up to top of the podium.
Sabato, who had not played on the World Rugby Sevens Tour since the Hamilton stage in January 2020, scored the first two tries in Argentina’s presentation in Malaga against Jamaica, a match that had started adversely for the albiceleste set. He then made two assists and paved the way for a 31-7 win. Then the Pumas 7s beat Spain 40-12 and secured a place in the quarterfinals, with a match to play in group C, this Saturday against the United States.
At 32, the man from Alumni is the second scorer in the history of Pumas 7s in the Circuit. With the two this Friday, he has 122 tries and is two short of entering the world top 30 (Canadian Sean Duke is in 30th place). “I am very happy to be part of the team again and to play again,” Sábato told THE NATION from the concentration in Malaga. “The time away was long but now I am really looking forward to being part of the team again”.
Between the paralysis due to the pandemic that forced the suspension of the Circuit in March 2020 and a persistent shoulder injury, Sabato had not played this competition for two years, and missed five stages. He returned in time for the Olympics (he previously participated in the Dubai and Los Angeles preparatory tournaments), but was as a 14th member of the squad, as a replacement due to injuries, and ultimately did not play.
His presence in the team he designs Santiago Gomez Cora (the only one who, in his time as a player, supported more times than Sábato, and who with 230 seems unattainable) is key, not only because of his ability to violate in-goals but also because of the experience he brings to a team that is in full renovation process. In Dubai, where the first two stages of the Circuit took place, five players made their debut: Tomás Elizalde, Joaquín Lamas and Santiago Vera Feld –they were once again called up for Málaga and Seville–, Mateo Grazziano and Tomás Lizazú. In Spain another is making his presentation: Agustin Fraga (CUBA), 19 years old, 1.92 meters and 97 kilos.
His return is more relevant even in the absence of captain Santiago Álvarez and sub-captain Gastón Revol, two of the team’s most experienced players, who traveled to Spain but missed this stage for having tested positive for Covid-19. Consequently, Argentina is acting with a squad of 12 members.
“The team is doing very well. We had a very good preseason all together, the boys adapted very well to the system and are playing very well”, added Sábato. “Even though Santi and Gastón are not here, I think the team feels comfortable with the system and becomes strong and we are playing at a high level.”
“Franco is one of the most experienced players, and we saw him very well and his shoulder recovered. We will take it little by little, so that it returns to an international rhythm. For the group, the fact that he is there adds up a lot,” said Gómez Cora. “It’s been a difficult week, but we don’t make excuses. We are focused on playing and staying together.”
The Pumas 7s had a hesitant start against Jamaica, which is making its first experience in the Circuit. They started off 7-0 down and took five minutes to score the first try. But from the management of Sábato they were finding work and ended up winning comfortably, by 24 points.
In the night shift, against the local team, the Argentine improved remarkably and practically monopolized the actions. With two tries of the figure, Marcos Moneta (he had achieved one against Jamaica), won 40-12 and was among the top eight. Sábato was a substitute and entered to star in the last three minutes.
“The objective is to grow in the game, adapt to the boys that are joining and form a good team. We did good tournaments in Dubai, so the idea is to continue on that path, that if we continue to improve in the game, the results will come”, Sábato clarified. “Obviously it would be very good for us to win a stage, it is the dream of all of us who are here every time a tournament starts. But we are calm.”
This Saturday, the Pumas 7s will seek first place in the area and a more favorable crossover in the quarterfinals when at 10:00 (Argentine time) they face the United States, who also won their two games and is one of the favorites. The quarterfinals will begin at 3:00 p.m. and Argentina’s rival will be Australia or Ireland. The semifinals and the final are scheduled for Sunday.
Argentina started the 2021/22 World Tour with two very good performances in Dubai, where they won two bronze medals, the same metal they had won at the Tokyo Olympics. The goal of the team is to continue climbing and win a stage again, something that hasn’t happened since the 2009 San Diego Sevens.
Due to the pandemic and the restrictions of each country, the contest suffered three casualties among the teams. The first to give up was New Zealand, as in the first two stages, in Dubai. Later, Fiji and Samoa, which was going to be Argentina’s adversary, declined due to outbreaks in the schools. New Zealand and Samoa were replaced by Germany and Jamaica, respectively, while Fiji’s group was reduced to three teams. The Germans surprised equalizing with Australia in 12. In addition, England, Scotland and Wales returned to participate separately; in the Olympic Games and in the first two series, in the United Arab Emirates, they had done it together, for the United Kingdom.