The Blitzboks are assured of top spot in Pool B after beating France and Argentina on the opening day of the HSBC Sydney Sevens that also saw hosts Australia, USA, England and Fiji go unbeaten.
A pulsating end to the opening day of the HSBC Sydney Sevens saw Fiji beat defending champions New Zealand 26-5 to join hosts Australia, England, South Africa and USA as the only teams with a perfect record at Bankwest Stadium.
Fiji’s victory, their sixth in a row when the sides have met in the pool stages on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, sees them top Pool A from their greatest rivals New Zealand, who would have qualified for the semi-finals with victory.
South Africa also bounced back from a disappointing event in Hamilton last weekend to become the first team to confirm their place in the semi-finals in Sydney as Pool B winners with a game to spare as even if the Blitzboks lose to Samoa they would still finish above a victorious France or Argentina on the head-to-head rule.
Australia and England sit top of Pool C and D respectively, the hosts only on points difference from USA. The Australians raised $15,000 for the Red Cross Appeal supporting those affected by bushfires by scoring 10 tries in victories over Scotland and Japan.
Rugby Australia, World Rugby and partners are each donating $500 for every try scored by the Australian men and women in their home event, so with the 11 tries scored by the women’s team in their two matches, a total of $31,500 was donated on day one.
The pool stage concludes on Sunday after which the four pool winners will progress straight to the Cup semi-finals. The other teams will go into play-offs to determine the rankings from fifth to 12th. The action gets underway at 11:07 local time (GMT+11) with Scotland’s Pool C encounter with Japan.
Fiji fans were in loud voice when their heroes ran out onto the sun-kissed turf, but it was a Kenyan outfit buoyed by last weekend’s defeat of South Africa who opened the scoring when Collins Injera burst through for his 274th try in series history to get their own supporters dancing in the stands. However, Fiji came storming back with Aminiasi Tuimaba and Vilimoni Botitu dotting down for a 14-7 half-time lead. A sublime offload saw Josua Vakurunabili finish off an attack to put some daylight between the sides before the blistering pace of Tuimaba gave the Fiji fans more to cheer as they bid to avoid missing out on the top eight for a third time in four events this season.
Defending champions New Zealand made it 12 wins in a row on the series with a dominant 54-5 defeat of Wales to bring the curtain down on the opening round of men’s matches. Co-captain Tim Mikkelson raced away for the first and could have had a second but selflessly passed inside to give the returning Caleb Clarke the try. Further tries by Sam Dickson, Salesi Rayasi and Clarke – the latter after Wales lost James McCarthy to the sin-bin – put the All Blacks Sevens out of sight at 33-0 up at half-time. Three further tries through Rayasi, Etene Nanai-Seturo and Regan Ware took the score past 50 before Joe Goodchild crossed to avoid a whitewash like in Hamilton.
Wales secured their first pool victory of the season in dramatic fashion, capitalising on two late yellow cards for Kenya’s Nelson Oyoo and Johnstone Olindi to snatch a 26-21 victory thanks to tries by debutant Will Jones and Ben Roach. Wales had recovered from conceding an early try to lead at half-time after captain Luke Treharne’s try deep into added time, only for Collins Injera and Daniel Taabu tries to have seemingly put Kenya on the verge of victory.
The 106th meeting in series history between Fiji and New Zealand had the crowd on the edge of their seats with the Fijian fans the ones celebrating from the moment Tuimaba stepped his way through the defence in the opening minute. Sevuloni Mocenacagi’s line then enabled him to cut through the All Blacks Sevens’ defence before Tuimaba dotted down his second for a 21-0 half-time lead. Ware did finally get the series leaders on the scoreboard, but there was no way back once Waisea Nacuqu scored Fiji’s fourth try in a win that could kick-start the Olympic champions’ season.
Argentina haven’t beaten South Africa on Australian soil for a decade and that run continued with the Blitzboks – desperate to bounce back after finishing 10th in Hamilton – running out emphatic 52-14 winners. Los Pumas Sevens had had to call on their 13th player Felipe del Mestre before kick-off due to an injury to Fernando Luna and it got worse with JC Pretorius, Selvyn Davids, Angelo Davids and Justin Geduld in his 50th series event scoring first-half tries for a 26-0 lead. There was no let up after the break by South Africa with tries from the three Davids – Zain, Selvyn and Angelo (2) – posting their highest ever score against Argentina.
France went into the tournament with captain Jean-Pascal Barraque and Stephen Parez completing suspensions from Hamilton where Les Bleus finished as runners-up, but it didn’t seem to affect them early on with Remi Siega and Paulin Riva scoring in the opening three minutes. A try-saving tackle from Terry Bouhraoua stopped a certain Samoa try but the Pacific islanders did get on the scoreboard when Laaloi Leilua stepped his way through the defence. Tavite Veredamu gave France a 17-7 lead at the break, but Samoa fought back to tie the scores with barely ninety seconds to play thanks to tries from John Vaili and Tuna Tuitama. Some incredible defence looked set to earn Samoa a draw, but France – who saw Veredamu sent off for two yellow cards – found a way over through Antoine Zeghdar.
A first win of the tournament was the target for Argentina and Samoa after opening defeats and it proved to be a closely-fought battle with the sides trading tries in the first half, the pick of them scored by Joe Perez after he ran onto a kick-through from near his own line to race clear to tie the scores at 14-14. Paul Scanlan, called into the squad after an injury to Tuna Tuitama, gave Samoa the lead but two late tries by Santiago Mare saw Los Pumas Sevens emerge the 28-21 victors.
Angelo Davids simply couldn’t stop scoring, following up his hat-trick against Argentina with another against France as South Africa ran out 24-12 winners in the battle between the two teams chasing New Zealand in the series standings. Pretorius scored the Blitzboks’ other try with Sacha Valleau touching down once in each half for a Les Bleues side who had captain Barraque available again after a four-match suspension.
USA, runners-up in Sydney 12 months ago, kicked the men’s competition off with an 32-14 defeat of Scotland. Captain Ben Pinkelman scored at either end of the first half with long-range run-ins as USA eked out a 15-7 half-time lead, Max McFarland scoring Scotland’s try with his first touch of the ball after coming on as a replacement. The Sevens Eagles, who are yet to reach a semi-final this season, stretched that lead with tries by Cody Melphy on his return to the series after nearly two years away, Maka Unufa and Tomasin.
With every Australian try worth $1,500 to the Red Cross Appeal, the hosts had plenty of motivation to start well against invitational side Japan with Lachie Anderson and Jeral Skelton both dotting down in the first half. Australia worked Josh Turner over for number three before a lengthy delay for an injury to a Japanese player, but they picked up where they left off with Dylan Pietsch and Lachie Miller matching the women’s tally of five tries in their opening match. Japan, though, had the final say with Rikiya Oishi scoring for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games hosts for a 33-7 final score.
Two first-half tries from Perry Baker against Japan temporarily took him ahead of fellow USA speedster Carlin Isles in their race to 200 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tries, but three late run-ins meant that Isles is now three away from the milestone and two ahead of Baker. Melphy and Naima Fuala’au also got on the scoreboard as the Sevens Eagles ran out 45-7 winners with Taisei Hayashi scoring Japan’s only try.
Australia got their try donation count running again with Henry Hutchison and Turner scoring either side of Scotland captain Robbie Fergusson in the first half. Two yellow cards in the second half, the second for Turner for a deliberate knock-on that saw referee James Dolan award Scotland a penalty try, took away Australia’s momentum, but a double by Maurice Longbottom and another for Anderson wrapped up the 31-14 victory to set up a pool decider with USA.
Canada didn’t lose a match in Hamilton in finishing fifth, but looked to be going into half-time trailing Ireland until Harry Jones found captain Nathan Hirayama in support for his 143rd try in series history. That gave Canada a 14-12 lead and cancelled out the earlier tries of Harry McNulty and Jordan Conroy for Ireland. John O’Donnell edged Ireland ahead once more but Canada came back again with David Richard and Jones ensuring their side triumphed 28-19 to go seven matches unbeaten for the first time in sevens series history.
Spain’s only win in 22 previous meetings with England had come on Australian soil in Adelaide in 2012, but James Rodwell’s men were determined not to suffer the same fate in Sydney with Will Edwards, Ben Harris (2) and Tom Bowen tries giving them a 26-0 lead at half-time. England were just as dominant in the second half, Charlton Kerr and Ollie Lindsay-Hague scoring either side of Dan Norton’s 350th try in series history in a 47-0 victory, the margin of which could prove important come the end of the pool stages.
Canada’s unbeaten run came to an end against Spain after two tries late in the first half by Joan Losada and their record try-scorer Pol Pla gave them an unexpected 21-5 lead at the break. Canada did cut the deficit to nine points when Richard scored their second try after Andrew Coe’s first-half effort, but Spain were not to be denied a morale-boosting victory with Manuel Sainz-Trapaga’s try securing a 28-12 triumph in their final match of the day.
Three tries around half-time proved decisive for England as they ran out 19-12 winners over Ireland. Harris scored with the final play of the first half to cancel out Ireland captain Billy Dardis’ earlier effort and the second half was barely 10 seconds old when Norton dotted down. He quickly added a second with Ireland not able to breach the English defence until late in the half through Teddy Kennedy. Ireland did have a chance to snatch a draw with one final restart, but they lost the ball to leave England unbeaten on day one.