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HSBC London Sevens: Australia and Samoa keep Olympic dreams alive
Australia and Samoa head into Sunday in a two-way battle for the last automatic Olympic Games qualification spot after a dramatic opening day in front of more than 51,000 fans at Twickenham.
Australia will face Fiji in the quarter-finals, while Samoa take on Great Britain with crucial points at stake in the race for Paris 2024. Argentina play Ireland and New Zealand will be favourites against France in the other quarter finals.
With one World Series slot available for next year, Kevin Wekesa scored six tries in two matches to give Kenya a potentially crucial advantage in the relegation play-off pool.
POOL A: South Africa
New Zealand’s winning streak continued with a perfect pool A performance. Leroy Carter scored twice as New Zealand beat USA 35-17 in their Pool A opener. They made it two from two with a 20-5 win over Great Britain, and defeated South Africa 32-21 for a perfect three in the last match of the day.
South Africa’s outside hopes of automatically qualifying for next year’s Olympics are over as they failed to reach the knockout phase, losing 19-15 to Great Britain and drawing 26-26 against USA before that final loss to New Zealand. The Blitzboks can still go to Paris, but will have to go through qualifying rounds in Africa.
Great Britain edged a tense encounter with USA 21-19 to claim second place in the pool.
POOL B Triple qualifiers
Argentina, Fiji and Ireland all qualified for Sunday’s quarter-finals with two wins from three to finish the day level on seven pool points.
Fiji, still looking for their first Cup title of the year, kicked off their tournament in London with a 33-12 win over Ireland. A 40-12 loss against Argentina put the brakes on their ambition before Paula Nayacakalou scored three of their eight tries to ensure a quarter-final slot with a 54-7 win over Japan.
Paris-qualified Argentina had suffered an early scare against a determined invitational Japan team who matched them score for score early on, going into halftime at 12-12. But the second seeds pulled away in the second period, to win 43-12
After their opening match loss against Fiji, the Irish found their feet, running in six tries to beat Japan 40-7 before hanging on to beat Argentina 14-12.
POOL C: Samoa top of the spots
Samoa and Australia kept their automatic Olympics qualification hopes alive coming through a tough Pool C.
Samoa survived a late fightback from Olympic hosts France to win their opening match 28-21, before getting the better of Australia 24-14 courtesy of doubles from Vaa Apelu Maliko and Melani Matavao, then cruising to a 40-17 win over Spain.
Australia had opened the defence of their London title with a comfortable 33-12 win over Spain, and beat France 26-12 in their final appearance on the opening day to make sure of their place in the last eight.
France, who finished third in Toulouse last week, picked up their only victory of the day against Spain, winning 35-21. Thanks to other results it was enough for them to squeeze into the last eight.
Play-off Pool: Six in two for Kenya flier Wekesa
Two wins in as many matches put Kenya in the box seat for a place in Sunday’s World Series survival pool finals, but who makes the deciding match will go to the wire, after Uruguay and Canada won one and lost one.
Kenya’s Kevin Wekesa scored a hat-trick in each of Kenya’s matches - their come-from-behind 24-19 win over Canada, and their 38-26 win over Challenger Series champions Tonga, to put one foot in the final.
Bautista Basso, meanwhile, scored two tries in Uruguay’s opening match against Tonga - his second coming on the hooter to give them a 15-12 victory. His third of the day, against Canada, looked enough to see them through to the final, but Brock Webster’s 13th-minute touchdown - his second in the match - means three sides are battling it out for two places in the match that decides who will take the remaining World Series spot next season.