New Zealand's qualification for the quarter-finals after two victories over Poland and USA officially clinched the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series 2023 title for the seventh time in its history with two days to go. The Black Ferns Sevens, who have already won five out of six tournaments this season, claim their first championship title since 2020.
The quarter-final line-up is still taking shape with a final pool match to be played for each team on Saturday. Only New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain and Fiji have two wins from two matches.
Under the cheers of the children massed in the stands of the Ernest-Wallon stadium in Toulouse, this first day of the HSBC France Sevens offered a lot of shocks and surprises, between showers and sunshine.
From New Zealand's crown, Ireland's victory over France, Sophie de Goede's debut in the sevens, guest team Poland's first try, Maddison Levi's record number of tries scored in a season and Australia's biggest score of the day against Brazil (52-0), this last women's stop of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in France fulfilled its mission.
POOL A: XV's CONTRIBUTION TO CANADA'S SUCCESS
Making her first appearance on the circuit, the powerful captain of the Canada Women XV team Sophie de Goede (22 caps) could not prevent Canada's defeat by USA (19-26) despite her decisive contribution to the team. Her valuable turnover allowed her XV partner Sabrina Poulin to score the first try of the game and she scored her first try on the World Series early in the second half.
New Zealand made short work of Poland by scoring eight tries (50-0), the guest team returning to the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series for the first time since Málaga and Seville last year.
Poland, fourth in the World Rugby Challenger Sevens Series, surprised Canada by opening the scoring through Ilona Zaishliuk before the Canadians fought back just before half-time to lead 14-7 at the break. Poulin and de Goede each scored a try with the second from Madison Grant in the second half to finish the victory 35-7.
The following match between the Black Ferns Sevens and the USA Women's Eagles Sevens was highly anticipated as a win for the girls in black would make them automatic champions for the season. Stacey Waaka showed the New Zealanders' desire not to wait, scoring in the first minute. But a lapse in concentration that allowed the Americans to pull back in the first half was a minor scare. However, the power of Portia Woodman-Wickliffe and Tyla Nathan-Wong was crucial in securing a 31-12 victory.
New Zealand take the top spot in the pool ahead of Saturday's final match, leaving the second place up for grabs between the USA and Canada, while Poland are fourth in the pool.
POOL B: IRELAND DEFEAT FRANCE AT HOME
France Women were unable to get their game going and conceded five tries, including a hat-trick from Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe (0-27 in the 10th minute). It wasn't until the 13th minute and a crazy run by Seraphine Okemba that France started to show something. With Joanna Grisez out on a yellow card and making her comeback, they could not avoid a severe loss (7-27).
With her three tries against Brazil (52-0), plus a brace against Ireland, Australia's Maddison Levi equaled the record (52 tries in one season) previously held by New Zealander Portia Woodman-Wickliffe. The record is due to be broken for good this weekend.
France were stung in their pride at having missed their opening game, but they quickly rectified the situation against Brazil, who paid the price for their questioning. Chloé Pelle, Séraphine Okemba (two), Caroline Drouin, Joanna Grisez (two), Chloé Jacquet and Lou Noel shared the victory points (43-0).
After France, Ireland were well on their way to toppling another big team, Australia, thanks to the impressive Lucy Mulhall and Stacey Flood. Trailing 7-12 at the break, Australia found their feet to win (33-12) thanks to the Levi sisters in tries, Charlotte Caslick in turnovers and the tireless Faith Nathan in tackles.
Australia lead the pool ahead of Ireland, France and Brazil.
POOL C: FIJIANA TOP OF THE POOL
Fiji easily beat Spain (47-7) in the opening match of the first day. Japan then started strongly against Great Britain, setting the tempo of the match under the impulse of Yume Hirano (7-12 at the break) before Welsh Jasmine Joyce and English Grace Compton took over the match in the second half (19-12).
Japan, back in France for the first time since Paris 2018, were no more fortunate in their second match of the day. Victims of Fijiana's skills and running, the Japanese side conceded four tries and were only able to score two, one of which came at the buzzer (26-14).
The last game of the pool on this first day rewarded an unstoppable Great Britain team against Spain (33-12). Despite their fatigue, the Leones did not give up, Maria Calvo scoring under the posts in the 17th minute.
Fiji lead the pool on points difference ahead of Great Britain. Japan and Spain follow in order.
In Pool A, USA start as favourites against Poland, while New Zealand go into their match against Canada confident of extending their 20-game winning streak against the team.
In Pool B, after falling to Ireland, France will have to aim for a win against Australia, against whom they have won only once of their last four matches, 10-5 in Sydney. But the Bleues have never managed to beat Australia at home, losing all four of their previous attempts. Against Brazil, Ireland will be looking to pick up as many points as possible in the hope of maintaining their lead for automatic qualification for Paris 2024.
In Pool C, Fiji will be looking to build on their two wins on the opening day against Great Britain, a team two places below them in the rankings. Fiji have won only two of their previous eight matches this season (Hamilton and Vancouver). Both teams are looking forward to this match in the hope of reaching the quarter-finals and qualifying for Paris 2024 by Sunday. The match between Japan (9th in the standings) and Spain (10th in the standings) promises to be very close.
The quarter-finals of the women's tournament will start at 15:26 (GMT +2).