Australia, Canada and New Zealand finished top of their pools as the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series 2019 kicked off at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado, on Saturday.
Defending series champions Australia had to recover from 15-0 down at half-time in their Pool A decider with Russia to make it three wins from three at the HSBC USA Women's Sevens and set up a Cup quarter-final with the hosts who finished third in Pool B.
Had the Olympic champions lost they would have been pitted into a mouth-watering encounter with Canada, who topped Pool C after a 24-10 defeat of France in which captain Ghislaine Landry (pictured) became the first to score 1,000 points in women's series history. Instead the Canadians will face Russia.
New Zealand have now won their last 21 series matches – 30 in all competitions – after topping Pool B and will face Ireland, the best ranked third-placed team, in the Cup quarter-finals.
The remaining quarter-final is an all-European affair between Pool B runners-up England and Pool C runners-up France.
There was heartbreak for Spain as they missed out on a quarter-final spot by just two points, their 46-0 win over series debutants Mexico not quite enough to overtake USA in the race for the second-best third-placed team spot. The two sides will meet again in the Challenge Trophy semi-final with new core team China facing Fiji in the other.
REACTION: @Aussie7s winning try scorer Dom du Toit on how they battled back from 15-0 down to beat @russiarugby 21-15 and set up a Cup quarter-final with #USAW7s hosts @USARugby in Glendale pic.twitter.com/Qp3m8yVnBd— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) October 21, 2018
Russia have made the podium at the last three series openers and they started impressively with Daria Lushina scoring a first-half double, the second running onto a chip kick and dotting down after a kind bounce, and Kristina Seredina a second-half brace in a 34-5 victory over Spain who scored a late consolation through Amaia Erbina. Australia were equally impressive as they kicked off their series title defence with Cassie Staples scoring three of their nine tries in a 53-0 defeat of against debutants Mexico.
Arina Bystrova and captain Alena Mikhaltsova both scored twice as Russia turned on the style against Mexico in their second match, touching down 10 tries in total to triumph 58-0 – their highest score in series history – to confirm their Cup quarter-final place. Olympic champions Australia brought the curtain down on the second round of matches with another strong display to book their spot in the last eight, Samantha Treherne scoring her first two series tries in a 40-0 defeat of Spain in which Pelite and Charlotte Caslick also touched down.
Two tries in the first three minutes by Seredina, ensuring she finished the day as joint top try-scorer with New Zealand's Portia Woodman on five, gave Russia a dream start in the decider against Australia before Baizat Khamidova touched down on the stroke of half-time. Australia coach John Manenti's words kick-started his side with Ellia Green running in two tries in quick succession to cut the deficit to 15-14. Pelite lost the ball over the line but Anastasia Prokudina was yellow-carded for being offside and from the resulting penalty Dom du Toit grabbed the winning try, denying Russia their first win over Australia since April 2015.
In the day's penultimate match Spain knew they had to score 48 or more points against Mexico to pip USA to the second-best third-placed team spot in the quarter-finals. They scored eight tries in total – two apiece by Maria Garcia and Beatriz Dominguez Sanchez in their first series tournament – but managed to convert only three of them as they came up just short in winning 46-0.
England scored the first upset of the day in game three, series debutant Ellie Kildunne shrugging off two tackles to score the winning try at the death after some prolonged pressure in the USA 22. The hosts had looked like holding on for a narrow victory after tries by Ilona Maher and Naya Tapper, but England silenced the crowd by sealing the 12-10 win. Four tries in as many first-half minutes – two from Woodman – set New Zealand on their way to a 19th consecutive series victory, the all-time leading try scorer completing her hat-trick in the second half of an emphatic 45-0 win over new core team China.
USA knew they had to win against China after losing their opening match, but the hosts were pushed all the way and needed second-half tries Ilona Maher (2) and Alev Kelter to run out 24-21 winners to the delight of the home crowd which included men's stars Perry Baker and Ben Pinkelman. Michaela Blyde then set the Black Ferns Sevens on the way to victory against England, fellow speedster Woodman taking her tally for the tournament to five with a double in the 28-7 win that confirmed their quarter-final spot.
REACTION: @rubytui has loved day one at #USAW7s with @BlackFerns Sevens taking their winning streak to 21 matches on #HSBC7s series to set up a Cup quarter-final with @IrishRugby pic.twitter.com/u2swioARen— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) October 20, 2018
Deborah Fleming and Helena Rowland crossed for two tries as England turned a slender two-point half-time advantage into a 35-12 victory over China to secure second spot in Pool B behind New Zealand. The Black Ferns Sevens beat their hosts by the same margin in the final match of the pool, Kelly Brazier, captain Sarah Goss, Ruby Tui, Shakira Baker and Blyde scoring the tries that secured a 21st consecutive series win.
New-look Fiji started brightly against Canada in the opening match in Glendale, but paid the price for a number of missed tackles as tries from Caroline Crossley, captain Ghislaine Landry, Julia Greenshields and birthday girl Charity Williams gave the North Americans a 26-0 lead before a consolation try by Naina Baleca on the hooter. Lina Guerin scored a try in each half as France, bidding for a fourth successive semi-final on the series, also got their campaign off to a winning start, beating Ireland 21-12.
Canada raced out of the blocks in their second match with Bianca Farella and Greenshields touching down, only for Ireland to claw their way back to a two-point deficit at half-time through Stacey Flood and captain Lucy Mulhall. That was as close as they would get, though, with Kaili Lukan and Breanne Nicholas scoring for a 24-12 victory. France were then unstoppable against Fiji, Shannon Izar and Anne-Cecile Ciofani scored braces in a 45-12 that set up the Pool C decider with Canada.
Ireland knew that an emphatic victory over Fiji would confirm their quarter-final place and they never looked back from the moment Aoife Doyle crossed in the first minute, scoring nine tries in total with Ashleigh Baxter grabbing a brace in the 59-7 victory. Canada and France had both impressed in their previous matches but it was the North Americans who hit the ground running with Brittany Benn scoring the first of their four tries for a 24-0 lead, Landry's opening conversion taking her through the 1,000 point milestone. Fanny Horta and Ciofani scored late tries but Canada were worthy winners.