China women and Kenya men came out on top in Dubai following a thrilling start to the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger 2024 at The Sevens Stadium.
Lu Zhuan’s China booked their place in the women’s final with a comfortable 45-5 victory against Uganda in Sunday’s semi-finals, before gaining revenge against Kenya – who had beaten them in the pool stage – in the showpiece match. Yan Meiling, Dou Xinrong and Chen Keyi each crossed the whitewash to confirm a 19-5 win.
China women’s player Chen Keyi said: “We are happy and so proud of our girls and the way we played to our standards. Kenya is a very physical team, so I’m proud of our tackling and how hard we worked for each other.
"We hope we can keep learning, keep playing to our way and keep winning in the next tournaments.”
Kenya’s men also suffered a pool-stage defeat, to Germany, but showed their class on Sunday as they overcame Uruguay 21-5 in the semi-finals. Patrick Odongo scored all three Kenyan tries against Los Teros Sevens and added another two in the final as Chile were beaten 12-7 in Dubai.
Kenya co-captain Tony Omondi said: “We are super happy. We knew this Challenger event in Dubai was very crucial for us to start on a high and now we must carry on with the momentum until the last tournament.”
It means the Shujaa lead the nascent men’s standings with 20 points, two points ahead of runners-up Chile, while bronze final winners Uruguay are third on 16 and Germany fourth with 14. China sit at the top the women’s standings, with Kenya second, Argentina third and Uganda fourth.
The Challenger 2024 moves onto Montevideo for the second of three rounds (between 8-10 March). The top four teams in the standings at the end of the third round in May will take their place alongside the bottom four teams from HSBC SVNS 2024 in the promotion-relegation tournament at the Grand Final in Madrid.
Uganda produced arguably the shock of the women’s tournament as they overcame Belgium, who had beaten them in Pool A, in the quarter-finals, having made it through the pool stage as the eighth seed.
The Lady Cranes Sevens were unable to build on that result on day three, however, as they conceded seven tries against China, their only consolation coming via Agnes Nakuya’s late try.
Argentina, meanwhile, had won four from four heading into Sunday’s women’s semi-finals but failed to get on the scoreboard against Kenya. Tries from Judith Okumu, Naomi Amuguni and Sinaida Nyachio sealing a 17-0 win for the Lionesses.
But despite conceding an early try in the bronze final against Uganda, Argentina made sure they ended the weekend on a high and with 16 vital points in their luggage as Marianela Escalante’s hat-trick helped the South Americans to a 36-10 victory.
Belgium, meanwhile, earned themselves 12 points thanks to a hard-fought fifth-place play-off victory against Poland, tries from Margaux Lalli and Hanne Swiers giving them a 10-5 win.
Thailand won the seventh-place play-off 31-12 against Czechia, while Naomi Kelly scored four of Papua New Guinea’s five tries as they wrapped up the ninth-place play-off with a 31-0 defeat of Hong Kong China.
And Mexico will head to Montevideo in March bottom of the women’s standings, after they lost the 11th-place play-off 12-5 against Paraguay.
Uruguay win men’s bronze final
Germany were the only men’s team to end the pool stage with a 100 per cent record in Dubai, and they maintained that form with a 19-7 defeat of Hong Kong China in Saturday’s quarter-finals.
However, the Europeans stumbled on day three, slipping to a 15-7 semi-final loss against Chile in which they didn’t get on the scoreboard until Jakob Dipper’s last-minute try. By then, Clemente Armstrong, Luca Strabucchi and Ernesto Tchimino had each crossed the whitewash to put the result beyond doubt.
Earlier, in Sunday’s opening men’s semi-final, Uruguay had struggled to contain Odongo and Kenya with Bautista Basso’s late try nothing more than consolation.
Basso’s score did give Los Teros Sevens something positive to build on, and they did exactly that in the bronze final. Two tries from Baltazar Amaya – his second coming in the final minute – either side of another Dipper effort giving Uruguay a 12-7 victory.
Japan, who were narrowly beaten by eventual winners Kenya in the quarter-finals, made sure of fifth place and 12 points with a 28-5 defeat of Tonga on Sunday. Kippei Taninaka scored a second-half hat-trick as Japan overcame opponents who were twice reduced to six players.
Hong Kong China won the seventh-place play-off with a convincing 38-0 defeat of Georgia, meanwhile, and there were also victories on day three for Uganda, 27-12 in the ninth-place play-off against Portugal and Papua New Guinea, 47-10 against Mexico in the 11th-place play-off.
The Challenger was introduced in February 2020 to boost the development of rugby sevens across the globe and provide a clear promotion pathway to reach the top level of the short format of the game which has experienced huge growth over the past two decades since the introduction of the global sevens series and becoming an Olympic sport at the Rio 2016 Games.
The bigger and better than ever 2024 edition of the Challenger will continue at Estadio Charrúa in Montevideo, Uruguay on 8-10 March before standalone women’s and men’s events at Henryk Reyman's Municipal Stadium in Krakow, Poland and Dantestadion in Munich, Germany respectively on 18-19 May.