Five teams remain unbeaten after an enthralling opening day of the HSBC Sydney Sevens 2020 in hosts Australia, defending champions New Zealand, Canada, England and France.
The fifth round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 got off to a flying start when Fiji stunned Glendale winners USA 19-14 in the opening match, but otherwise the fancied teams all won both of their pool matches on Saturday at Bankwest Stadium.
Hosts Australia sit top of Pool C on points difference from France, having raised $16,500 for the Red Cross Appeal supporting those affected by bushfires by scoring 11 tries with Rugby Australia, World Rugby and partners each donating $500 per try scored by the Australian men and women in their home event.
England sit above series leaders New Zealand by virtue of their better points difference after both saw off the challenge of Japan and Russia in Pool A, while Hamilton runners-up Canada top Pool B ahead of their meeting with neighbours USA.
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. The action gets underway at 08:45 local time (GMT+11) with Fiji's Pool C encounter with Brazil.
England started strongly against Russia, Deborah Fleming opening the scoring with her 50th try on the series before Meg Jones stepped through a huge gap in the defence to score herself and then fed Alex Matthews for a 21-0 lead at half-time. The one-sided nature of the match continued into the second half with Russia having simply no answer to England's play, conceding further tries through Helena Rowland and captain Abbie Brown to go down 33-0.
New Zealand would have been expected to rack up the points against invitational side Japan, but some stoic defence from the Sakura Sevens ensured the first half remained scoreless. It didn't remain that way for long with Stacey Fluhler and Tyla Nathan-Wong entering the fray, the former sprinting away for her 26th try of the season. before Kelly Brazier sliced through the defence after taking a quick tap. Two of the Black Ferns Sevens' other big names then joined the party, Michaela Blyde and Ruby Tui dotting down with Nathan-Wong converting all four tries to move to within 10 of 1,000 series points and make the final score 28-0.
The Sakura Sevens' defence was again impressive in the first half against England and they seemed set to keep their line intact until the last few seconds when Matthews went over to cancel out the try by Mele Yua Havili Kagawa. England scored three second-half tries through Amy Wilson Hardy, Helena Rowland and Ellie Kildunne to wrap up the 26-5 victory but certainly knew they had been in a match against a young but determined Japanese outfit.
The first meeting between New Zealand and Russia on Australian soil saw Nathan-Wong open the scoring for the Black Ferns Sevens but then depart the field clutching her shoulder after falling awkwardly in trying to prevent the final pass for Baizat Khamidova to even things up at 5-5. Theresa Fitzpatrick edged New Zealand ahead before half-time but Russia captain Kristina Seredina burst through and raced away to tie the scores in the second half. New Zealand, though, made it 16 matches unbeaten against Russia thanks to two quick-fire tries by Shiray Kaka to seal a 22-12 victory that sets up the pool decider with England.
USA scored the first sevens try at Bankwest Stadium with an overthrown Fiji lineout five metres from their own line giving Ilona Maher the easiest try she'll ever score, but the response was swift with Luisa Tisolo's pace taking her through five players to race away to tie the scores on the stroke of half-time. Alev Kelter than stole the ball at the breakdown to give Kris Thomas an easy run-in, but once again Fiji hit back instantly when Alowesi Nakoci went round the outside. Nakoci should have scored the winner with little more than a minute to play, but she tried to get nearer to the posts and was forced over the dead-ball line. Fortunately for her, play was brought back from a deliberate knock-on by Kelter and Mereseini Leivere scored to clinch a 19-14 victory.
Canada were determined not to suffer the same fate as their North American rivals and scored three first-half tries through Elissa Alarie, Sara Kaljuvee and Julia Greenshields – the latter spinning out of a tackle to mark her 30th series event in style. Brazil captain Raquel Kochhann went down with an injury before Alarie's try but another Bianca Silva run-in shortly afterwards just made Canada go up a gear. They wrapped up a 33-10 victory with further tries by Karen Paquin and Kayla Moleschi, although Brazil had the final say with another long-range run-in by speedster Thalia Costa.
With USA on the back foot after losing to Fiji, they knew victory was a must against Brazil to keep alive their hopes of a Cup semi-final and a first-half hat-trick from Steph Rovetti helped put them in control with a 22-7 lead. When co-captain Kris Thomas and Kelter extended that cushion to 27 points it was all going well for the Glendale champions, but Brazil have shown great improvement off the back of five weeks spent in New Zealand as a squad and their speedsters Silva and Costa sprinted away to make the final score a more respectable 34-19. Whether these tries will prove costly for USA in terms of which play-off match they find themselves in remains to be seen.
Fiji were clearly in the mood for another upset with Roela Radiniyavuni scoring inside a minute, but Canada responded with a try by captain Ghislaine Landry before missed tackles allowed Bianca Farella to give her side a slender 10-7 lead. That grew when Charity Williams charged her way over but Canada knew Fiji were very much still in the match, especially after Nakoci burst through to run in another try to leave only a point separating the teams at 15-14. A tense finale awaited, even after Keyara Wardley's try because Greenshields was unable to add the conversion to put the result beyond doubt. Fortunately for Canada, Fiji made an error and they were able to run down the clock for a 20-14 victory.
With every Australian try worth $1,500 to the Red Cross Appeal, the Olympic champions had added motivation to score big against Spain and it was the returning Charlotte Caslick (pictured) who stepped her way through the defence for the opening try. Caslick, who missed the last three rounds with a hamstring injury, then sent Ellia Green over for before scoring her second of the game. A yellow card for Patricia Garcia was followed by a second for Green on the stroke of half-time and after Spain went down to five players within 30 seconds of the restart, the Australian flyer sprinted clear to complete her third hat-trick on home soil to wrap up a 33-0 victory.
Bronze medallists in Hamilton last weekend, France extended their perfect record against Ireland with an emphatic first-half display setting them on the way to a 40-14 victory in the final match of the first round. Straight from the kick-off, Camille Grassineau marked her 30th series event with a long run-in with Chloé Pelle, Coralie Bertrand and captain Shannon Izar dotting down before Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe scored one in each half. Ireland were pushing for a third in the final 30 seconds, but instead France stole it with Bertrand and then Joanne Grisez crossing to score what could be crucial tries if points differences comes into it at the climax of the pool stages.
Captain Sharni Williams got the try count going in their second match against Ireland with an early try with a Caslick double and another from Dominique du Toit making it 24-0 at half-time. Former World Rugby Women's Sevens Player of the Year Caslick then ensured an Australian scored a hat-trick for the second game running before Shannon Parry crossed for try number 11 on the day. Ireland were unable to cross the try-line, meaning Australia have not conceded any points - just as in their opening two matches when they won the title in 2018.
France were equally impressive against Spain in the final women's match of day one, Séraphine Okemba scoring two of their six tries in a 42-7 victory. Izar and Bertrand tries had Les Bleues up 21-0 before Eva Aguirre scored Spain's first points of the weekend, but Lina Guerin, Okemba and Grisez kept the scoreboard ticking over as they set up the expected pool decider with Australia for the guaranteed spot in the semi-finals.