The Cup quarter-finals on Sunday see England play Scotland, New Zealand face Fiji, Canada take on Argentina, while South Africa play France.
On a hot day in Wellington, highlights included England captain Tom Mitchell passing 1000 series points, Canada’s Harry Jones reaching 500, Scotland’s Mark Robertson reached his 50th tournament while both Sam Cross and Pouli Teaupa lead the DHL Impact Player standings after a day of fierce action.
Argentina started brightly in Wellington with a 17-12 win over Kenya, however the Shujaa Pride made up for that loss with a resounding 47-5 win over invitational team Papua New Guinea later in the day. Collins Injera, returning for Kenya said: “The first match is tough, but coming here I am trying to find my feet so let’s see how it goes, but it’s good to be back. We need to look at our communication as a team.”
England continued their winning ways from Cape Town with victories over Papua New Guinea (40-0) and Argentina (26-7) before easing past Kenya (31-12) to ensure a quarter-final place on day two against the auld enemy, Scotland.
Captain Tom Mitchell, who tipped over the 1,000 points mark in Wellington, said: “We were trying to build through the day today. It’s been a long time since we last played and it was a case of getting through our rustiness early on. Scotland next – we know them very well and we are pretty close with them after training with some of them for (Team) GB. It’s always a fierce game with them.”
Fiji’s 26-12 victory over Australia was marred by a six match suspension for Nemani Nagusa for contact with the eyes of an opponent. However the Olympic champions picked themselves up and ran eight tries past Japan to secure a 56-0 victory.
South Africa also eased past Japan (33-0) and while Australia battled bravely, the Blitzboks were strong in defence during a 28-0 win at the Westpac Stadium.
The highlight of Pool B was the clash of the heavyweights, Fiji and South Africa, on Saturday evening. In a typically intense encounter, Fiji clawed their way back into the game to make it 17-12 during the second half, until a wayward Fijian offload made it’s way into the hands of Seabelo Senatla who put the game beyond the series champions.
After the tough encounter, South Africa’s playmaker Werner Kok said: “It was a great game and we were very happy with the win as Fiji are a great team. But we were very clinical and the guys played very well”.
Elsewhere, Australia finally recorded a win in Wellington with a 33-12 win over Japan.
The clash of New Zealand against Samoa grabbed headlines for the return of former New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens, this time in the blue of Samoa. However, his new charges have a lot of work to do to catch up with the All Black Sevens, with captain Scott Curry scoring two tries as they beat the Samoans, 33-7.
New Zealand impressed in that match and the subsequent 21-14 defeat of France, however interim head coach Scott Waldrom found room for improvement: “You can never be too happy. We did some good stuff, but then we switched off. We’ll go through the video, but there is definitely room for improvement. The experienced guys are a lot happier, we’ve changed the way they play a bit, giving them more freedom.”
Perry Baker again impressed as the USA drew 21-21 with France and beat Samoa 24-12.
The last match of the evening saw the Americans stick with New Zealand until tries by Tim Mikkelson and Isaac Te Tamaki saw the home side run out 24-12 winners.
The first surprise of the day came when Canada, who had disappointing finishes in both Dubai and Cape Town, beat Scotland 28-19 in Pool D, with the impressive Nathan Hirayama among the try scorers. The Canadians went on to deliver polished performances against Wales (28-5) and Russia (29-0) to justify a spot in Sunday’s quarter-finals at the Westpac Stadium.
Coach Damian McGrath was satisfied with the performance on day one: “I can’t ask for more than three from three, but it was the work off the ball and our defence which impressed me.
“Last year the guys were nearly-men at almost every tournament. There is so much talent in the squad and we just need to believe it.”Scotland completed more passes than any other side on this year’s series and that fluidity helped them get over their initial loss to Canada by recording wins against Russia (12-5) and Wales (31-7).
Speaking after the Welsh win, Scottish try scorer Gavin Lowe said: “We were brilliant out there, the boys pulled it out of the bag in that match. That was a key game to get into the quarters and we fronted up. After (Scotland’s tournament win last season in) London we have the belief, we’re currently fourth in the world and that shows the work is paying off.”