South Africa, New Zealand, France, Ireland and Kenya finished the pool stages of the HSBC Cape Town Sevens 2019 unbeaten to march into the Cup quarter-finals in style.
A crowd of 52,612 packed into Cape Town Stadium for day two of the tournament on Saturday, creating an electric atmosphere whenever their beloved Blitzboks were playing and cheering them to victories over Fiji and USA.
South Africa, New Zealand and France won all three matches to top their respective pools, while Ireland and Kenya played out an entertaining 24-24 draw in the Pool D decider with the men in green finishing top on points difference.
They are joined in the Cup quarter-finals by Fiji, Argentina and Scotland with Dubai bronze medallists England and USA the biggest names to miss out on the top eight, the latter for the first time since Singapore in April 2018. The two will now meet each other in the ninth place play-off.
The first Cup quarter-final, at 11:18 local time (GMT+2), is an all-African affair with South Africa taking on Kenya for the right to face the winner of the encounter between France and Argentina.
The Cup quarter-finals in the men's #CapeTown7s @Blitzboks v @OfficialKRU@FranceRugby v @lospumas7arg@IrishRugby— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) December 14, 2019
v @fijirugby@AllBlacks7s v @Scotlandteam
First QF kicks off at 11:18hrs (GMT+2) on Sunday #HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/PUgd1fzxXr
Ireland's reward for topping their pool is a meeting with Fiji, who turned on the style in their final match against Japan to ensure they didn't miss out on the quarter-finals twice in a series for the first time.
The last quarter-final pits New Zealand, the most successful team in series history in South Africa, against Scotland, who progressed as runners-up in Pool C after France's victory against England.
Later in the day, the other play-offs for the lower places will see Wales and Japan again face-off for 15th place as they did in Dubai, Samoa tackle Spain for 13th and Australia meet Canada for 11th place.
Japan had plenty of possession early on against USA but couldn't penetrate the defensive line and instead were hit with three quick-fire tries late in the first half, Carlin Isles and Danny Barrett scoring while Yoshikazu Fujita was in the sin-bin before captain Madison Hughes made it 21-0 at half-time. Hughes scored a second try after the break in a 15-point personal haul as the Sevens Eagles ran out comfortable 42-0 winners.
The Cape Town Stadium was rocking for the last match of round two, between defending champions Fiji and hosts South Africa. Seabelo Senatla received an early yellow card with Fiji scoring twice in his absence through Jerry Tuwai and Vilimoni Botitu for a 14-0 lead. Roared on by a packed stadium, the Blitzboks scored just before half-time through Rosko Specman and then dominated the second with Senatla scoring his 230th try in series history to draw level with current Argentina coach Santiago Gomez Cora in third place.
Points were the name of the game for Fiji against Japan just in case USA beat South Africa to leave all three teams on seven points. They didn't hang around, Waisea Nacuqu scoring two of their five first-half tries and receiving a yellow card as the series champions turned on the style. Nacuqu completed his hat-trick after the break but Japan had the final say, Taisei Hayashi scoring their first try in Cape Town for a 54-7 final score.
The pressure was on USA to beat the Blitzboks for the first time in South Africa, but it was the hosts who went 14-0 up despite losing two players to the sin-bin for dangerous tackles, Seabelo Senatla receiving the latter after Carlin Isles had given the Sevens Eagles hope on the stroke of half-time. To the delight of the crowd it was South Africa who scored first in the second half, Selvyn Davids bursting through to dot down, but once more USA came back with late tries by Matai Leuta and Perry Baker.
While other Cup quarter-finalists in Dubai had struggled in Cape Town, Argentina had their match with Wales in the bag long before half-time after a dominant performance saw German Schulz (2), Rodrigo Etchart and Francisco Ulloa cross for a 28-0 lead at the break. Los Pumas Sevens didn't let up, though, with three more players getting their names on the scoresheet in Geronimo Prisciantelli, Luciano Gonzalez and Felipe del Mestre to guarantee themselves a top two spot in the pool.
Canada looked set to score the opening try against New Zealand when Matt Mullins broke, but he was hauled into touch and instead the All Blacks Sevens went downfield with Dylan Collier dotting down. Co-captain Scott Curry doubled their lead to 14-0 at half-time, but a series of penalties allowed Mike Fuailefau to get Canada back into the game. It was only a temporary set-back for New Zealand, though, with three further tries wrapping up a 33-5 win, the last of them by Sam Dickson in his 50th series event.
"It's the only opportunity we have to play at home, so really grateful to all the people that come out and support us..."— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) December 14, 2019
Siviwe Soyizwapi gives credit to the fans after they reached the quarter-finals at the #CapeTown7s#HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/vXW0dQNrwA
Wales and Canada were both looking to end the pool stages with a first win, but it was the North Americans who came out on top, Theo Sauder scoring a try in each half to put his side 17-0 ahead. Wales did rally with tries from Cameron Lewis and Jay Jones, but it was Canada who held on to triumph 17-14 to finish third in the pool.
The pool decider was equally close, Joe Webber giving New Zealand the lead twice, either side of a first-half Matias Osadczuk try for Argentina. Andrew Knewstubb raced away to increase the All Blacks Sevens' lead to 19-7 but Argentina captain Gaston Revol ensured his side had the final say with a try.
Two yellow cards for Ally Miller proved costly for Scotland in their meeting with fellow day one winners France, Les Bleus coming from 14-0 down with four unanswered tries to triumph 24-19. France captain Jean Pascal Barraque and Stephen Parez scored either side of half-time during Miller's first time on the sidelines, while his second came for a high tackle that earned France a penalty try. Tavite Veredamu added a fourth for France before Ross McCann's break was finished by Femi Sofolarin – Scotland's match-winner against England – to set up ensure a tense finish.
England kept their Cup quarter-final hopes alive with a 33-7 defeat of Spain in this all-European pool, Tom Bowen starting the five-try win with his score after only 33 seconds before Dan Norton and Will Edwards gave their side a 19-7 lead at half-time. Richard de Carpentier then capitalised on a Spanish error near the England line and looked set to go the length of the pitch, but a fantastic chase from the other side of the pitch by captain Francisco Hernandez saw him tackled into touch. The respite was only temporary with Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Harry Glover tries wrapping up the winner.
Scotland needed to win, and then hope England failed to do the same against France, to reach the quarter-finals, but they were made to fight all the way against Spain to emerge 22-19 winners, two tries from Pequeur in the second half ultimately enough, although it could have been more comfortable had Sofolarin not dropped the ball twice over the line.
Nothing could separate France and England at half-time, Les Bleus captain Barraque cancelling out the try by his opposite number Phil Burgess for a 7-7 score. France seized control with a three-try burst started by Pierre Gilles Lakafia and, although Ollie Lindsay-Hague ran in a try from distance, Barraque completed his hat-trick in added time for a 33-12 win.
🗣"We know when we do our best, we can deal with anyone"— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) December 14, 2019
@IrishRugby have topped a pool on the #HSBC7s for the first time ever as a core team, in just their second tournament. pic.twitter.com/JKaY1aFiNX
Australia and Kenya played out a frenetic first half with barely any break in play in the opening men's match of the day, the Shujaa Sevens continuing their impressive form in Cape Town to score first through Vincent Onyala only for them to concede a try with the clock in red to Joe Pincus. Kenya were definitely the happier with the broken play and edged ahead again through Alvin Otieno, although it looked as though their inability to finish other opportunities would cost them. However, Australia couldn't find a way through the Kenyan defence and went down 12-7.
Samoa knew victory was a must against Ireland to keep their Cup quarter-final hopes alive and they opened the scoring, a quick tap creating an opportunity for Belgium Tuatagaloa to step his marker and run in under the posts. However, two quick tries around half-time, from speedster Jordan Conroy and Harry McNulty, swung the match in Ireland's favour and they didn't look back, adding two more through John O'Donnell and Terry Kennedy to triumph 28-12 and confirm their place in the Cup quarter-finals for the first time as a core team.
Top spot was at stake when Ireland met Kenya, the two surprise teams of the weekend putting on another show, trading try for try to make it 19-19 with three minutes to go of an entertaining affair. Otieno edged Kenya ahead and they looked set to claim the win they needed to top the pool, but Conroy struck in added time, Mark Roche missing the kick to win the game.
Wallaby Sean McMahon scored the first try of his return to sevens as Australia raced out to a 17-0 lead against Samoa with both teams trying to salvage the best ranking after missing out on the quarter-finals. Tuna Tuitama did score twice for Samoa, who finished fourth in Dubai last weekend, but it was Australia who ran out 24-14 winners.