The top five teams in the World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 will all go into the deciding round of pool matches at the New Zealand Sevens in Hamilton unbeaten after a sun-soaked day at FMG Stadium.
Hosts and series leaders New Zealand, Olympic champions Australia and France currently sit top of their respective pools, the latter two on points difference only from USA and Canada respectively, after all enjoyed two victories from two on Saturday.
Fiji and China were the two other winners on the opening day of the first ever women’s series event in New Zealand, Fiji having held on to beat England in their opener after a impressive first-half display but then lost to 19-12 to the weekend’s invitational side China thanks a late brace by Yang Feifei.
The pool stage concludes on Sunday after which the three teams topping their respective pools and the best runner-up will progress straight to the Cup semi-finals. The other teams will go into play-offs to determine the rankings from fifth to 12th.
England may have scored early through Alex Matthews, but that only woke up Fiji who delighted their fans with plenty of offloads that led to unanswered tries by Ana Maria Naimasi, Asinate Savu, Raijieli Daveua and Tokasa Seniyasi for a 26-5 lead. England came charging back with tries by captain Abbie Brown and Ellie Kildunne to cut the deficit to seven points but Fiji were able to hang on for victory.
The Black Ferns Sevens went the length of the field for their opening try, much of it run by their speedster Michaela Blyde on her return after injury, before the smiling Stacey Fluhler and side-stepping Tyla Nathan-Wong also got on the scoreboard. The biggest celebration of the first half, though, came from Gu Yaoyao after she scored China’s first ever series try in nine meetings with New Zealand. The hosts wrapped up the 40-7 win with tries by Fluhler, Theresa Fitzpatrick and Gayle Broughton.
Fiji had impressed early on against England, but were dealt a massive blow when Roela Radiniyavuni was sent off in the third minute. Liu Xiaoqian gave China the lead when she slipped by a tackle and raced away to score, only for Fiji to work Raijieli Daveua over for a level game at half-time. Lavenia Tinai edged Fiji in front with a powerful run but China weren’t to be denied, Yang Feifei scoring twice to repeat their victory in this fixture in Biarritz last June.
New Zealand had needed sudden death extra-time to beat England in the Cup quarter-finals in Cape Town, but a masterclass in finishing by Blyde had the match all but wrapped up by half-time, the speedster scoring all four of her side’s tries for a 28-0 lead. Fluhler, one of the Unstoppables in World Rugby’s ‘Try and Stop Us’ campaign, grabbed a brace of her own in the second half as the Black Ferns Sevens moved out to 40-7 before debutant Georgie Lingham scored her first series try as a consolation for England.
The first half between USA and Russia was a cagey affair played largely around the middle of the pitch, until a yellow card for Baizat Khamidova for a high tackle was punished by Ilona Maher out wide. Alev Kelter kicked ahead and regathered to increase USA’s lead, before Russia gave themselves hope when captain Kristina Seredina dotted down. Lauren Doyle’s try ensured victory for USA, although Khamidova’s run-in cut the final deficit to 19-12.
Thalia Costa’s pace saw Brazil go the length of the pitch to score the opening try against Australia, but the response from the Olympic champions was swift with Emilee Cherry – playing her first tournament in 19 months after the birth of daughter Alice – scoring a quick double for a 10-7 half-time lead. Emma Sykes and Ellia Green made certain of the win, but Brazil had the final say with Rafaella Zanellato’s run-in capping a much improved performance from Brazil who clearly benefited from their five weeks together as a squad in New Zealand since the last round in Cape Town.
Brazil once again scored first in their second match, a lovely basketball pass releasing Costa to turn on the gas and score another long-range try. The response from Glendale winners USA was swift, though, tries by co-captain Kris Thomas, Kelter and Naya Tapper putting them in control at half-time before a Steph Rovetti double and another by Maher saw them run out 34-7 winners to set up the expected pool decider with Australia.
Green and Anna Baranchuk traded early tries in the next match before a double by Cassie Staples sent Australia into half-time with a 19-7 advantage over Russia. Australia knew they needed to keep the scoreboard ticking over and did so with three second-half tries, Alicia Lucas catching Russia napping with a dummy and dart down the touchline before Cherry and Sariah Paki put them out of sight as a late consolation try by Khamidova made the final score 40-12.
Séraphine Okemba scored twice in the first half of France’s opening match– including the first ever women’s series try in Hamilton – although Spain remained in touch with María García’s try. Les Bleues, bidding to top their pool for the fourth tournament in a row, were not to be denied victory though with Camille Grassineau, Joanna Grisez and Jade Ulutule running in tries for a 29-7 victory.
Canada also made the most of their attacking opportunities in the first half, Brittany Benn and Kaili Lukan scoring either side of an effort from Hannah Tyrrell for a 12-7 half-time lead over Ireland. A scrappy second half with a number of loose passes meant Canada had to work hard for the win, tries by Charity Williams and Lukan wrapping up the 24-7 victory.
Shannon Izar touched down twice in the first half against Ireland to become the third France player to score 50 tries on the series after Grassineau and captain Fanny Horta. France were in complete control at 28-0 ahead before Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Grassineau traded late tries in the 35-7 victory.
Canada recorded an almost identical scoreline to France against Spain, but some strong defence by Spain in the first half meant they needed four second-half tries to triumph 34-7, including a brace by captain Ghislaine Landry that took her past 1,300 points in series history.