Defending champions New Zealand, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series leaders USA, Australia, Canada, France and Spain were all victorious on day one of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens 2019 at 7he Sevens Stadium 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, USA 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.
Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, the top try scorer on the 2019 series, scored the first try of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens 2019 after a line-break by Kathy Baker created space in the Spanish defence. The flyer then chased down Iera Echebarria to deny Spain a quick reply, before a dummy from Baker saw her double Ireland's lead to 10-0.
However, with seconds to go to half-time Spain put Patricia Garcia into space to score in their 200th match in series history. Garcia then showed nerves of steel with time up on the clock to convert Maria Garcia's try and snatch a 12-10 victory for Las Leonas.
Australia had never lost to Fiji in 21 previous meetings and they showed their determination to maintain that record when Ellia Green burst through a tackle in her own half and raced away to score before Emma Tonegato (pictured) crossed for her 10th and 11th tries of the series from closer range for a 17-0 half-time lead. Green limped off before Tonegato's second, but Australia kept the scoreboard ticking over as captain Sharni Williams dummied to go over before Georgia Hannaway and Faith Nathan marked their series debuts with tries in the 38-0 victory to top Pool B after day one.
Canada, runners-up in Dubai in 2018, had looked on course for a comfortable opening Pool A victory after a Bianca Farella double and another from captain Ghislaine Landry had given them a 19-0 lead at half-time, but Russia came out in determined mood, captain Alena Mikhaltsova handing off Landry to score within 40 seconds of the restart and then Elena Zdrokova added a second to make it 19-12 with more than three minutes to play. Charity Williams eased any Canadian nerves with their fourth try but Zdrokova shrugged off an attempted tackle to run a try with seconds remaining to make the final score 24-19.
USA began their quest for a first Dubai title with a 29-7 defeat of Brazil, playing in the event for the first time since 2015. Brazil lost debutant Byanca Santa Rita Miranda to the sin-bin and Kristi Kirshe burst through a tackle to score under the posts in her absence. She ran in another after Brazil lost possession on the USA line and could have had a third before the break but knocked on. Two powerful hand-offs from Eti Haungatu saw her score her first series try with Naya Tapper and captain Abby Gustaitis also dotting down for USA. Brazil, though, did get on the scoreboard when Thalia Costa ran the length of the pitch to the delight of the crowd.
'Le Crunch Sevens' saw France take control of their Pool C match against England early on with three first-half tries through Séraphine Okemba, Shannon Izar and Chloé Pelle to lead 17-0 at half-time. There was no let up from Les Bleues after the break with Pelle racing down the right to score her second of the match before Coralie Bertrand did the same to wrap up the 29-0 victory and draw level with England in their head-to-head with eight victories apiece in series history.
That left only defending champions New Zealand and invitational team Japan to open their campaigns in Dubai. Waaka, one of World Rugby's Unstoppables in their 'Try and Stop Us' campaign, shrugged off a tackle to run in the first try before finding Kelly Brazier for a quick-fire second. The Black Ferns Sevens weren't finished there, though, with Theresa Fitzpatrick, Shakira Baker and Waaka running in tries for a 29-0 half-time lead. There was no let up after the break with Harding (2) and Alena Saili tries wrapping up a 48-0 victory against a Japan side that saw Riho Kurogi stretchered off injured in the first half.
The action continues on Friday with the two remaining rounds of pool play before the knockout stages on Saturday. Spain will again kick off the day's play at 7he Sevens Stadium, this time against Fiji, at 09:00 local time (GMT+4) before Olympic champions Australia face Ireland.