Kazakhstan joined top three seeds Russia, Spain and Ireland as unbeaten pool winners on day one of the Dublin Sevens at UCD Bowl on Saturday.
With the final place on offer at Rio 2016 awaiting the repechage winner in the Irish capital, Kazakhstan beat their Asian rivals and fourth seeds Hong Kong as well as Argentina and the Cook Islands to top Pool D and earn a Championship Cup quarter-final against Samoa.
The other pool winners, all core teams on the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, were the standout teams on a chilly day in Dublin where the sun made few appearances, Russia and Spain not conceding a single point and scoring 45 tries between them in topping Pool A and Pool B respectively.
Argentina, who were denied Sudamerica Rugby's place at Rio 2016 when Colombia scored a last-minute try in June 2015, remain in contention after Lettizia Alcaraz held her nerve to kick the winning conversion for a 17-15 win over Hong Kong to finish as Pool D runners-up behind Kazakhstan.
Their reward is a Championship Cup quarter-final with Russia, while Spain – bidding to join their men at Rio 2016 as repechage winners – will meet China and host nation Ireland will tackle Tunisia.
With medals being awarded to mirror the Olympic events, the Dublin Sevens features a different format to that seen on the HSBC World Rugby Women's Seven Series for the positional matches on day two.
Those finishing first and second in their pools will play for the Championship Cup and a place at Rio 2016. The winner of the Championship Cup final will also receive gold medals, the runner-up silver medals and the winner of the third place match bronze. The teams that come third and fourth in their pools will play for the Challenge Trophy.
POOL A (Russia, Madagascar, Samoa, Zimbabwe)
Russia may be top seeds for the tournament, but Samoa sent out an early marker that they are a team not to underestimate with an impressive 57-5 victory over Zimbabwe, Sieni Mose scoring four of her side's nine tries as their power and fancy footwork left the African side bamboozled. Russia followed that up with 10 tries of their own, including braces for Ekaterina Kazakova and Daria Lushina, in a 58-0 win over Madagascar.
Samoa then set up a Pool A decider with Russia with another strong display, but it was Madagascar who finished the strongest and tries from Sophie Razafiarisoa and Dinah Raveloarinoro were greeted by roars from the crowd as they cut the deficit to 22-10. Russia, though, showed their class once again with Zimbabwe unable to live with their pace and running lines, captain Marina Petrova scoring a hat-trick in a 59-0 win.
In a battle for African pride between the two winless teams in the pool, Madagascar came out on top of an end-to-end game with a 19-17 victory thanks to Claudia Rasoarimalala's try with less than a minute to play. Russia and Samoa were already assured of their places in the Cup quarter-finals but it was the Europeans who emerged victorious despite a committed display by the Pacific Islanders, Petrova and Elena Zdrokova grabbing two tries apiece in the 47-0 win.
POOL B (Spain, Mexico, Tunisia, Venezuela)
Spain came out firing to the delight of the vocal Spanish contingent in the crowd, Patricia Garcia scoring two of her side's six tries in an emphatic 38-0 win over Tunisia, their greater experience as a core team on the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series clear for all to see. The opening match in this pool was a tight affair with just two tries, Karina Landeros giving Mexico the lead before the Venezuelan fans cheered Cristy Egido over the line.
Tunisia had found life hard-going against the more experienced Spanish, but they came into their own against Mexico in game two, captain Rawia Othmani scoring the last of their four tries in a 22-0 victory. The other match in the second round brought together two sides with the noisiest supporters, but it was world series regulars Spain who ran out emphatic 45-0 winners over Venezuela with Vanesa Rial crossing for two tries.
Venezuela scored two second-half tries in their final match, but couldn't complete the comeback with Tunisia holding on for a 17-10 victory to end day one on a winning note and take their place in the Championship Cup quarter-finals. Spain confirmed top spot in the pool after captain Elisabet Martinez and Rial grabbed braces in a 38-0 win over Mexico, the second seeds going through day one without conceding a single point.
POOL C (China, Ireland, Portugal, Trinidad and Tobago)
The influence of sevens legend Ben Gollings on China was evident as they raced out the blocks against Portugal in their first match, captain Chen Keyi among their try-scorers in a 24-5 win. A sea of green flags then greeted Ireland for the final match of round one, and the hosts didn't disappoint their fans, four first-half tries from Alison Miller setting them on the road to a 51-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago.
Four first-half tries, including two in as many minutes by Zhou Rong, put China in complete control of their second match with Trinidad and Tobago, but the Caribbean side were not overawed and continued to battle bravely, Ornella George's try getting the biggest cheer of all the scores in the 34-5 win. Ireland also went two for two, but had to battle past the brave Portuguese, who scored first through captain Isabel Ozorio, to win 24-12.
Portugal finished their pool campaign with a flourish, scoring six tries for an emphatic 42-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago. That left only the top spot to be decided between Ireland and China and what ensued was a titanic battle, two tries from Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe in the first half proving the difference as the hosts ran out 12-0 winners.
POOL D (Argentina, Cook Islands, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan)
Kazakhstan and Argentina got the tournament underway as dark clouds gathered over the UCD Bowl and it was the Asian side who were simply too strong and organised, Veronika Stepanyuga scoring a hat-trick in the 36-5 victory. The other opening round match was a much tighter affair, Hong Kong and the Cook Islands battling to a 12-12 draw with neither side willing to back down from the challenge.
Two tries from captain Noelia Billerbeck saw Argentina pull off a 17-12 win over the Cook Islands in a match that saw some crunching tackles. The next match was equally hard-fought with Kazakhstan making it two wins from two with a 21-12 defeat of Hong Kong, Olessya Teryayeva again among their try-scorers.
Kazakhstan were the first team to book their places in the Championship Cup quarter-final as a pool winner after seeing off the challenge of the Cook Islands 12-5, Svetlana Klyuchnikova's last-minute try ending any hopes of a comeback win. They were joined by Argentina, who stunned fourth seeds Hong Kong 17-15 after Lettizia Alcaraz kicked the winning conversion to Isabel Fontanarrosa's second try - her only successful kick of the game.
Photo credits: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
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