New Zealand, France and Australia all caught the eye on the opening day of the HSBC Canada Women's Sevens on Saturday with each producing some impressive displays of attacking rugby to finish the pool stages unbeaten at Westhills Stadium in Langford.
The three teams occupied the podium at the last round of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series 2018 in Japan and made it clear to everyone their intentions to be among the medallists once again as they finished top of their respective pools.
Pool B winners France will get the Cup quarter-finals underway on Sunday when they face Ireland at 09:20 local time (GMT -7) before series leaders and Pool C winners Australia meet Fiji in a repeat of their last eight encounter in Japan.
USA and hosts Canada meet in the third quarter-final after finishing second in their respective pools, with defending champions New Zealand to meet England, the side they beat 22-0 en route to topping Pool A.
In the Challenge Trophy semi-finals, Japan will face invitational team Brazil buoyed by their first-ever victory over Russia, who are pitted against Spain in the other.
Fiji had comfortably beaten England en route to a first Cup quarter-final appearance of the series in Kitakyushu last month and did so again in their opening match in Langford, Luisa Basei Tisolo scoring two of their tries in a 24-14 victory. New Zealand then signalled their intent to claim a third gold medal in the space of a month with an impressive display of attacking rugby to beat invitational team Brazil by a record score of 51-0. Seven players scored their nine tries with Michaela Blyde and Niall Williams bagging a brace.
Fiji hit the ground running in their second match against Brazil, scoring three early tries before Bianca Silva raced 50 metres to score her side's first try of the tournament. Fiji regrouped to run in four further tries for a comfortable 47-14 victory, although Brazil battled bravely to the finish and scored a second try when Isadora Cerullo was put through into space. The Black Ferns Sevens then set up a Pool A decider with Fiji with a 22-0 defeat of England, Blyde scoring another double, either side of tries for Tyla Nathan-Wong and Williams, as the defending champions once again showed their ruthless streak.
Brazil had shown improvement throughout the day and gave England, winners in Langford in 2016, a massive scare before going down 31-17. Two tries for Mariana Nicolau either side of Bianca Silva's effort looked to have put Brazil on the way to victory at 17-12 ahead, but three England tries in quick succession in the final minutes – two of them by captain Abbie Brown – denied their opponents a big scalp and confirmed their place in the Cup quarter-finals as the second-best third-placed team. The final match of the day, the pool decider between New Zealand and Fiji, was an intense battle with neither side prepared to give an inch. Fiji opened the scoring after Tisolo burst through the defence and combined with Tima Ravia before receiving the return pass for a brilliant try. The Black Ferns Sevens hit back when they whipped the ball wide for Williams to score and she then fended off tackles to release Blyde for a 70-metre run in for what turned out to be the winning try.
The opening match of the day saw milestone tries for USA duo Naya Tapper and Alev Kelter who brought up their 50th tries on the series with a record 35-14 victory over a much-changed Russian side missing many of their star names. USA led 35-0 before Russia scored two late consolation tries through captain Daria Noritsina and Aleksandra Kazantseva. France, fresh off the back of their first-ever Cup final appearance in Kitakyushu three weeks ago, then maintained their 100 per cent record against Japan with a 33-7 win. Montserrat Amédée bagged a brace, but the biggest cheer was reserved for Tomomi Kozasa's late try for Japan.
Japan kept themselves in the hunt for a first Cup quarter-final of the 2018 series with a hard-fought 24-7 victory over Russia – their first in series history in what was the ninth meeting between the sides – with Yume Hirano scoring two of their four tries. The meeting between France and USA was effectively the pool decider in round two and it lived up the billing as it swung one way then the other. Amédée scored another brace to give France a 15-5 half-time lead, but tries from Tapper and Kelter looked to have given USA the victory until Jade Le Pesq took a quick tap penalty and coasted through unchallenged to seal a 22-19 victory.
USA knew that victory was a must to guarantee their place in the Cup quarter-finals, but they were made to work hard early on by the Sakura Sevens with Hirano cancelling out Abby Gustaitis' opener. There was to be no second victory of the day for Japan, though, with two Tapper tries securing a 28-7 win for USA. France then made their experience count against Russia with Amédée, Grassineau, Le Pesq and Ciofani among their try scorers in a 45-0 victory, the latter running the length of the pitch to score.
For the second tournament running Ireland edged a closely-fought encounter with Spain on day one, this time by a margin of 7-0 thanks to Louise Galvin's first-half try. The noise levels then ratcheted up several notches as host nation Canada took on series leaders Australia in a rare meeting in the pool stages. Australia struck the first blow when Emma Tonegato found herself out wide in space in the opening minute and while every Canadian possession was greeted with cheers, they couldn't find a way over the line, instead seeing themselves turned over and Tonegato go the length of the pitch for her second try on the stroke of half-time. Yasmin Meakes and Dom du Toit added second-half tries before Bianca Farella finished off a move to give the home crowd something to cheer about in a 22-7 loss.
Canada knew that victory was a must after that opening loss to Australia and they were made to work hard for it by Spain. Patricia Garcia scored twice for the Kitakyushu Cup semi-finalists, but a try in each half from Charity Williams helped Canada secure a 24-10 win to the delight of the home crowd. Australia then came racing out of the blocks against Ireland, Emma Sykes and captain Shannon Parry among their scorers as the first half ended 24-0. Ireland did rally with tries from Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe and Eve Higgins, but Tonegato's second of the match ended any hopes they had of an unlikely comeback.
The battle for second place behind Australia was only decided at the death when Canada captain Ghislaine Landry converted Williams' breakaway try to snatch a 19-17 victory over Ireland. Two tries from Murphy Crowe had given Ireland, who had beaten Canada in the Challenge Trophy semi-finals in Kitakyushu three weeks ago, a 12-7 half-time lead and, while Natasha Watcham-Roy did level the scores, a clever dummy from Stacey Flood looked to have won it for her side until Williams broke through the defence to the delight of the home crowd. Spain had beaten Australia in pool play in Kitakyushu, but the Olympic champions ensured there would be no repeat performance with a clinical first-half display, Charlotte Caslick scoring two of their five tries for a 33-0 lead. Demi Hayes and Du Toit crossed in the second as Australia wrapped up an impressive 43-10 victory.