Australia shone on thrilling first day of action at the HSBC Sydney Sevens
Hosts Australia will feature in the the Cup quarter-finals of the HSBC Sydney Sevens on Sunday after a thrilling day of action which saw England, Wales and New Zealand all go unbeaten at the Allianz Stadium.
Head coach Andy Friend’s Australian outfit will face Wales in just their second Cup quarter-final of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2016-17. Wales topped Pool B and ended a 14-match losing streak against Fiji in the process, thanks to an emphatic hat-trick from Welsh wizard Morgan Williams.
England, HSBC Cape Town Sevens winners, took three wins from three in Pool A, with Dan Norton becoming the second highest try scorer of all-time when he surpassed Santiago Gomez-Cora’s record of 230 tries. They will face Argentina in the Cup quarter-finals on day two of the men’s event.
Scott Waldrom’s New Zealand side will play Fiji after they managed three victories against Australia, Scotland and Papua New Guinea and USA will play South Africa, the Blitzboks having lost their first Pool match since Hong Kong in April last year.
Meanwhile, Kenya will play Russia, Scotland face Samoa, Canada meet Japan and France take on Papua New Guinea in the Challenge Trophy quarter-finals on Sunday.
England find themselves through to yet another Cup quarter-final after going unbeaten in Sydney, but it was against South Africa in their final Pool match that Simon Amor’s side really showed their class. The Blitzboks started off strongly and were 15-7 up with four minutes to go, until Dan Norton went over and finally James Rodwell after a delicate cross kick from Ollie Lindsay-Hague. The conversions from captain Tom Mitchell made it 21-15 at full time. The last team to beat the Blitzboks was England in Cape Town back in December.
Amor’s England side looked unsettled at the beginning of the day however against Kenya. Billy Odhiambo and Eden Agero gave the African side a 12-0 lead but it was the familiar faces of Ruaridh McConnochie and Richard de Carpentier, two stars of the HSBC Cape Town Sevens, who managed to claw England back into the match and finish the match 19-12. England’s other win of the day came against Japan, who they managed to beat with relative ease, the game finishing 26-0 on full time.
For South Africa, the series leaders and two time tournament champions so far on the 2016-17 series, it was business as usual with wins over Japan (32-0) and a closer call against Kenya, 14-7. Two tries from Seabelo Senatla, on his last appearance on the 2016-17 series, proved crucial against Kenya and the 23-year-old will be missed by head coach Neil Powell for the rest of the series.
Wales, who had a disappointing showing in Wellington after only making the Challenge Trophy semi-final, started their day with a win over France, but only just. Ethan Davies scored in the dying seconds and converted it to take the win for Wales 14-12.
The biggest upset of the day though came when Gareth Williams’ side played Fiji, Olympic gold medallists and back-to-back series winners. A hat-trick for Morgan Williams took Wales to an emphatic 28-15 victory, their first win over the Pacific islanders since 2013 and in doing so ended a 14-match losing streak against Fiji. The Welsh finished off their day with a draw against Samoa 7-7, and finished as top qualifiers in Pool B.
Despite losing to Wales Fiji were on song on Saturday. A convincing 40-0 win against Samoa, which included six tries, two of which came from lethal finisher Joeli Lutumailagi, showed Gareth Baber’s side at their best. Another big win against France, 31-7, again had Fiji going over with five different try scorers to the delight of the packed out stands.
New Zealand went unbeaten on day one and kicked off the day with a rematch of last year’s Sydney final with New Zealand facing hosts Australia. While the hosts started strong with a penalty try and one from Henry Hutchison, New Zealand scored four and dominated the second half to get the win..
New Zealand then went on to beat PNG convincingly, 31-7, scoring five tries while Scotland struggled against Australia, Sam Myers getting a brace and Tim Anstee getting a hat-trick as they won 43-13.
Australia ran out easy winners over PNG and New Zealand wrapped up an impressive day with a 14-7 win over Scotland; Scott Curry and Tim Mikkelson ensuring the win for the All Black Sevens.
While USA finished up topping Pool D after three matches, their opening match against Argentina was close affair. Thanks to the power of Danny Barrett, who scored a brace of tries, Mike Friday’s outfit were able to win 22-19 and begin their Sydney campaign with a bang.
The North American side went on to beat rivals Canada 31-19, in their second match of the day, a game that looked too close to call at half-time as the sides were all level at 19-19. Second half tries from captain Madison Hughes, Andrew Durutalo and Don Pati kept Canada at bay and secured the win. However in their final match against Russia, USA failed to beat their opponents for the first time since Glasgow 2012, losing out 14-17 in Sydney.
Santiago Gomez Cora’s Argentina side, despite losing out to USA, managed to take a close win against Russia 19-14 and scraped through against Canada with a 17-17 draw being enought to give them the required points to go through. Canada’s Pat Kay scored a try in the dying second but failed to convert.