At the end of the first day of the HSBC France Sevens, the quarter-finals are not yet decided, but five teams have already distinguished themselves after two wins in two matches: Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Argentina, and France.
Winning the tournament in Toulouse is still a long way off, but qualification for Paris 2024 Olympics is on everyone's mind this weekend. After hosts France and New Zealand (who qualified in Singapore), the three remaining places will be decided over the next two weekends. Argentina can officially qualify this weekend by playing in the Cup semi-finals, while Fiji can secure their place by winning the title at the Stade Ernest-Wallon on Sunday night.
The stakes are also high at the bottom of the table. With the number of teams reduced to 12 in the new Series format in 2024, the first 11 teams at the end of this weekend will secure their place for next year; those finishing between 12th and 14th will meet in London in a week's time, where they will be joined by Tonga as winners of World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023.
In the process, Japan have moved a step closer to being relegated relegation from next season while the battle to avoid the final play-off in London has been reignited between Uruguay, Spain, Kenya and Canada.
HSBC France Sevens organised for the second year in a row in Toulouse was supported by thousands of school children from all over the Occitanie region who came to cheer the teams. It was an opportunity to discover the best of international rugby and to take part in a wide range of activities in a very festive atmosphere which will continue until Sunday evening.
POOL A: NEW ZEALAND UNDER NO THREAT
Uruguay completed the first stage of their journey to avoid the play-off in London by beating Kenya (19-5) thanks to their domination in all areas of the game and to Mateo Vinals, the masked scorer (23 tries in 9 tournaments).
Canada, on the other hand, lost to the All Blacks Sevens (29-12) led by Tim Mikkelson who came on to the field on his own to celebrate his 100th international tournament. Trailing 10-12 at the break, the men in black got the ball rolling again through Regan Ware on the kick-off before unfolding their game.
Every point was to count for Uruguay against Canada to get out of the play-off zone. But the Canadians scored every single one of them (0-26), putting doubt in Los Teros' mind ahead of their final match against New Zealand on Saturday.
The All Blacks Sevens continued their winning streak with their 15th consecutive victory, over Kenya (31-5).
New Zealand lead Pool A ahead of Canada, Uruguay and Kenya after the first round of matches.
POOL B: SPAIN SURPRISES
Spain held out as much as they could against the powerful Great Britain, but a try in each half from Scotland's Sofolarin and Barreto were enough to dash Los Leones' hopes (14-0).
It was a difficult start for Germany. They were greeted by a yellow card in the third minute, then five tries from Argentina, who are second in the Series standings (29-7). With a special mention for Anton Gleitze, who scored the Germans' only try after a hand-off on Mateo Graziano and an impressive 90-metre run.
Germany, however, failed to break through the wall built by Great Britain, who won their second match of the day (14-0).
As for Argentina, the victory over their Spanish cousins was not in doubt between the 2nd and 12th nation in the standings. However, it was Spain who scored first, three times, to take a 19-0 lead. Marcos Moneta managed to save the honour just before the break, relayed by Isgro to win (21-19).
Argentina saved their skin at the last minute to finish second in Pool B behind Great Britain and ahead of Spain and Germany.
POOL C: FRANCE LAUNCH THEIR CAMPAIGN BRILLIANTLY
In a match where the pace of the game continued to accelerate, France struck first against South Africa with Theo Forner running at full speed after a close-range delivery from Paulin Riva. A yellow card on Ronald Brown combined with a brief moment of hesitation after a Blitzboks move led to the second try, by Jordan Sepho.
At the break, Les Bleus led 12-0. Rebbadj passing the arms for Iraguha, then offloading to Sepho, Andy Timo passing after contact to Iraguha and France were off and running. Despite a try from James Murphy, South Africa could not come back from 31-7 down.
USA snatched a draw against Fiji in the next match (21-21) after two brilliant moves for each team: a David Still crossing that led to Kevon Williams' try (5th) and Nacuqu's cross pass to Maisamoa and then inside delivery to Naduvalo (8th).
The comeback of USA was not so successful against France, who led 14-0 until the 11th minute after a strong performance by Theo Forner and Rayan Rebbadj. But the legs of Pita Vi and the skills of Lucas Lacamp gave the US Eagles some hope. However, Aaron Grandidier, France's top try scorer this season (18) has returned to the team to save his team at the very end of the match (19-14).
The last match of the day saw a downpour of water. Underneath, Fiji and South Africa had to control the ball that slipped away too easily, often playing on foot and adapting their runs. In the end, South Africa were the most successful, scoring four tries to one (7-24).
At the end of the first day, France leads Pool C ahead of South Africa, USA and Fiji.
POOL D: AUSTRALIA COME AWAY
Dietrich Roache was the spark for Australia's win over Japan, who had opened the score (49-5), taking advantage of space to launch the counter-attack and score before providing the decisive offload for Darby Lancaster two minutes later. A brace from Henry Paterson and Matthew Gonzalez confirmed the Wallabies' dominance.
Ireland captain Harry McNulty made amends for his yellow card just before the break by scoring the winning try against Samoa (12-14).
Against Australia, McNamara gave the Irish a lead at the break, but Paterson and Nick Malouf turned the game around to seal the victory (12-5).
In the following match, Samoa dominated a spirited Japan (28-12) with Paul Scanlan scoring 16 of his team's 21 points in the first half.
Australia are now temporarily top of their group ahead of Samoa, Ireland and Japan ahead of Saturday's final pool match.
LAST ROUND BEFORE THE QUARTER-FINALS
In Pool A, three of the teams in the competition - Kenya, Canada and Uruguay - will be desperate for maximum points to avoid the relegation play-offs which will be played in London next weekend. Only New Zealand are guaranteed to progress to the quarter-finals.
In Pool B, Spain will be looking to win their first match against Germany since 2000 in a bid to move up the rankings a little and not turn their HSBC London Sevens into a tournament that could see them exit the World Series, before Argentina take on Great Britain.
In Pool C, the final two games promise to be tense between South Africa and USA on one hand, and Fiji and France on the other.
Finally, in Pool D, Japan are sinking further into the relegation zone and will have to produce an exceptional performance against Ireland, a team they beat in Singapore in the previous tournament. Samoa, winners of Cape Town, have high expectations for their final pool match against Australia, two teams who are playing for automatic qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
The quarterfinals will start at 17:38 (GMT+2).