Day one action on Thursday in the Dubai Sevens match between South Africa and Kenya.
The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series returned with a bang on Thursday with five of the eight men’s matches on day one of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens 2019 decided by sevens points or less.
Series champions Fiji held off a fast-finishing Japan 24-17, while US beat new core team Ireland 24-19 and South Africa had to come from behind to edge Kenya 17-12 in the last match of the day at the Sevens Stadium.
Samoa and France were the other narrow winners, coming through against Canada and Argentina respectively with a successful conversion giving Les Bleus the smallest winning margin of the day, 12-10.
By contrast, defending champions New Zealand and England put Wales and Spain to the sword by the same margin – 36-7 – while Australia were the day’s top scorers with seven tries in a 43-14 defeat of Scotland.
Samoa emerged from the tunnel on their own, walking out solemnly before lining up to honour those affected by the measles epidemic in the country that has claimed more than 40 lives. It was Canada, though, who twice went in front with tries from captain Nathan Hirayama and Josiah Morra only for Samoa to make it 12-12 at half-time thanks to efforts by Paul Scanlan and Tofatu Solia. Elisapeta Alofipo then gave Samoa the lead for the first time with less than two minutes to go and they held on, grateful to see Canada knock-on only metres from their line with the clock in red.
The outcome of the other Pool B match was never in doubt after Tone Ng Shiu gave defending champions New Zealand the lead with barely a minute on the clock before Kurt Baker quickly added a brace of his own for a 17-0 half-time lead over Wales. The second half was barely 30 seconds old when Ng Shui dotted down again with Ngarohi McGarvey-Black adding his own brace to make it 36-0 before a late consolation effort for Wales from Joe Goodchild.
A first-half brace from Joe Pincus laid the foundations for Australia’s 43-14 victory over Scotland in Pool B. His double, either side of one for Scotland captain Robbie Fergusson, and another for Josh Coward meant Australia led 19-7 at half-time. Josh Turner needed just 18 seconds of the second half to score on his series debut with Jeral Skelton extending Australia’s lead.
Fans had been looking forward to seeing former sprinter Trae Williams in full flight for Australia, but may not have expected it to be in defence, his pace enabling him to make a try-saving tackle under the posts. Scotland did eventually go over after a series of scrums through Max McFarland, but Henry Hutchinson’s long run in put the finishing touch on the Australian victory.
Fans were expecting defending series champions Fiji to run in the tries against invitational side Japan and there were only 25 seconds on the clock when Vilimoni Botitu opened the scoring. Jerry Tuwai, the World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year 2019 in association with HSBC, then reacted fastest when the ball skewed out of a Japanese scrum to score Fiji’s second but it was 10-5 at half-time after Yoshikazu Fujita touched down. Brothers Isoa Tabu and Sevuloni Mocenacagi pushed Fiji clear but once more Japan came back at them, cutting the final deficit to seven points with tries by Fujita and Kippei Ishida.
Spain enjoyed the perfect start to their Pool D match with England, when Manuel Sainz-Trapaga was stopped short but quick recycled ball enabled captain Francisco Hernandez to score the opening try. However, that merely kicked England into gear with Dan Bibby marking his 50th series tournament with a long run in before Dan Norton and Tom Emery touched down for a 19-7 half-time lead. Norton’s 340th try on the series and further scores from captain Phil Burgess and Ollie Lindsay-Hague made it 36 unanswered points for England come the final whistle.
Earlier, in the women’s competition, defending champions New Zealand, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series leaders US, Australia, Canada, France and Spain were all victorious on Thursday.
The Black Ferns Sevens secured the biggest win of the day, beating invitational team Japan 48-0 with braces from Stacey Waaka and Huia Harding, as they bid to become the first team to successfully defend the title in HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series history.
Australia, US and France were equally comfortable winners, but Canada had to dig deep to withstand a fight-back by Russia to triumph 24-19 and Spain only took the lead with time up on the clock against Ireland thanks to Patricia Garcia’s conversion in a 12-10 win.