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Blitzboks beat All Blacks Sevens, Australia scraped through but France needs inspiration on day one of the series opener.
Seven of last season’s top eight qualified for the men’s quarter-finals after day one of the Emirates Dubai 7s, the first event of a revamped HSBC SVNS 2024.
Only France, who are expected to be joined by 15s superstar Antoine Dupont later in the series, missed out, while USA were one of three teams to benefit from the introduction of losing bonus points.
POOL A: BLITZBOKS ON TOP
In a pool expected to be competitive, a slow start nearly cost 2023 series champions New Zealand. Canada, chasing their first series win against the All Blacks Sevens in six years, took a shock 21-12 lead, but were hampered by injuries to three players, eventually going down 26-21.
Seventh-ranked South Africa, boosted by the return of veteran winger Rosko Specman from 15s, capitalised on Samoa errors and a yellow card to win their opener 22-14.
That left Samoa needing to take something from New Zealand in their next group game, and they nearly took all three points thanks to Malakesi Masefau’s try from quick tap to put them 12-7 ahead at half-time. But Brady Rush’s last-gasp solo effort made it two wins from two for the All Blacks Sevens and left Samoa in a straight shootout with Canada for the final quarter-final berth.
Canada had their chances but repeatedly spilled the ball in promising positions, while Samoa were clinical, winning 24-0 with a pair of tries apiece from Masefau and BJ Lima.
In the pool decider, South Africa roared back to beat New Zealand 21-19, Ronald Brown and Masande Mtshali scoring late tries to secure victory.
POOL B: AUSTRALIA SCRAPE THROUGH
Ireland shocked Australia 19-12 in the opening round of men’s games. Two tries before half-time, the first through the pace and footwork of World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year 2022, Terry Kennedy gave Ireland a half-time lead they never surrendered against the 2022 series champions.
After a hat-trick from that man Kennedy eased Ireland past Spain, four tries from Argentina in as many first-half minutes against Australia left the reigning Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens champions on the brink of a pool-stage exit.
But a 25-7 victory against Spain put Australia through as one of the two best third-placed teams, leaving Nick Malouf, for one, relieved.
With both teams having already qualified, Argentina topped the pool after beating Ireland 17-7.
POOL C: USA BOUNCE BACK TO REACH LAST EIGHT
Fiji, without a series tournament win since Toulouse in May 2022, were run close by USA before captain Joseva Talacolo (pictured) reached over to score in the closing seconds.
The double Olympic champions then faced France in one of the pool phase’s heavyweight clashes. Les Bleus struck first but a trio of quickfire tries from the Flying Fijians showcased all their attributes – fearsome fends, fabulous footwork and outrageous offloading – and they never looked back. They eventually ran out 40-5 winners with Terio Tamani dropping four conversions to go with his hat-trick of tries.
It was USA who reacted better to defeat, beating France 26-14 to top the pool and join Fiji – who lost to Great Britain in the final game of the day – in the last eight.
The revamped women’s series kicked off with a new format but it was business as usual for Australia’s try machine as South Africa returned to the big show and Brazil benefitted from a bonus.
Australia and France were in ominous form on a mixed opening day for series champions New Zealand at the Emirates Dubai 7s, the first event of the HSBC SVNS 2024 season.
In a revamped format, Brazil took advantage of the new losing bonus-point system to qualify for the quarter-finals as one of the two best third-placed teams.
POOL A: FERNS MADE TO FIGHT
In a tricky pool, defending series champions New Zealand were given an almighty scare in their opening match against South Africa, who returned as a core team for the first time since 2014-15.
The Black Ferns Sevens, missing World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year 2023 Tyla Nathan-Wong, needed a last-minute try from Sarah Hirini before prevailing 19-14. South Africa had taken the lead thanks to an outrageous fingers-tips pass and off-the-floor offload from Zintle Mpupha.
They proved the performance was no fluke by pushing Fiji close in their next game before going down 21-17, but defeat to Great Britain meant the Springbok Women’s Sevens missed out on the quarter-finals.
With both teams already through, the Black Ferns Sevens then topped the pool with an entertaining 29-21 victory over Fiji. Earlier, a comfortable win against Great Britain was marred by a serious-looking injury to New Zealand captain Hirini.
POOL B: LEVI STARS FOR AUSTRALIA
The leading try scorer in the 2023 sevens series with 57, Maddison Levi picked up where she left off last season to score twice in the first three minutes of Australia’s 39-0 victory against Brazil as they began the defence of their Dubai title in style.
Levi, whose sister Teagan is also in the squad, then scored a hat-trick as Australia beat Japan 66-0. Ireland were also comfortable winners against Japan, then snuck past Brazil to set up a pool decider.
Brazil’s victory over Japan and losing bonus point against Ireland were enough to earn them a quarter-final place.
POOL C: LES BLEUES CRUISE
For the first time in the SVNS, a game went to sudden death as Canada (ninth) defied last season’s final standings to beat USA (third) and blow the pool wide open behind France. Carissa’s Norsten’s golden-point try in overtime sparked jubilant celebrations by a team who beat their North American rivals just once in six series games last season.
With fourth-ranked team France winning both their opening games comfortably, USA needed victory to leapfrog Les Bleues at the top of the pool.
But the Women’s Eagles Sevens gifted Lily Dezou two first-half tries and conceded four more, including an outrageous solo effort from 15s star Joanna Grisez, as France romped home 38-5.