After such a great start to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series circuit at the tail end of 2022, it was brilliant to have the action back in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Saturday to kick start 2023.
It was a busy day of action split across two pitches in the men’s and women’s events.
In the end, three men’s teams and three women’s teams won three matches out of three while, in the former event, USA won two and drew one to top their Pool.
In the men’s event there was a surprise in Pool A with Samoa, the Cape Town winners in December, failing to progress to the Cup quarter-finals while in the women’s event New Zealand looked sublime at times and did not concede a point.
Men’s Pool A and Pool B
Fiji won three out of three to top Pool A while New Zealand did the same to top Pool B.
First up in Pool A, Tira Wilagi, Waisea Nacuqu, Filipe Sauturaga and Manueli Maisamoa bagged tries as the Fijians defeated France 26-10.
Kenya were holding Samoa at 5-5 at half-time in their clash before second half scores came from Paul Scanlan (2), Vaa Apelu Maliko and Motu Opetai to see the former through 31-5.
Sauturaga, Nacuqu and Viwa Naduvalo scored converted tries as Fiji then defeated Kenya 21-7 and then France turned on the style to defeat Samoa.
Paulin Riva, Aaron Grandidier and Rayan Rebbadj were their try scorers in a 21-10 victory.
That result threw the Pool wide open and tries from Nacuqu (2), Naduvalo and Maisamoa saw Fiji hand Samoa a second defeat of the day 22-12.
It meant that a France win over Kenya would see the former make it through to the Cup quarter-finals alongside Fiji at the expense of Samoa.
The French did that in the end, but were pushed hard by Kenya, a Nelson Epée try hat-trick leading the way in a 26-21 win.
In Pool B, in their first match the hosts showed what they are all about by thumping Tonga 45-0.
The tries in that one came from Moses Leo, Regan Ware, Joe Webber, Roderick Solo, Ngarohi McGarvey-Black (2) and Brady Rush.
Nathan Lawson then led the way for Australia with two tries as they defeated Great Britain 28-14.
Tonga then caused a big shock by getting the better of Great Britain 26-21, Kyren Taumoefolau, Rodney Tongotea and John Ika among the tries for the victors.
There was then a cracking tie between New Zealand and Australia. Henry Paterson’s try, converted by Dietrich Roache, in the second half looked like it might win it for Australia, but Solo and Akuila Rokolisoa had other ideas.
They scored a try and conversion respectively for New Zealand to win it 21-19.
A try hat-trick by Roache helped Australia to a 36-7 win over Tonga, but it was not enough to see them top the Pool.
That was because a Solo double led New Zealand to a 19-12 win over Great Britain.
New Zealand and Australia are into the Cup quarter-finals.
Men’s Pool C and Pool D
USA were the best side in Pool C and South Africa, the Dubai champions, were in fine form to top Pool D.
Ireland were rusty in their Pool C opener, Uruguay pushing them all the way before a try from Bryan Mollen which was converted by Mark Riche gave them a 14-12 win.
USA had no such issues against Japan, Kevon Williams and Perry Baker leading the way with try doubles in a 40-12 success.
Tries from Moeki Fukushi, Yoshihiro Noguchi, Yoshiyuki Koga and Taiga Ishida then gave Japan an important 24-19 win over Uruguay.
USA and Ireland knew the clash between the two of them would be important and, in the end, it finished up in a 14-14 draw.
The Irish were up 14-7 with the end of the game edging close, but Ben Broselle scored a try and Steve Tomasin added the extras to give USA a share of the spoils.
Tomasin then scored a try of his own as USA beat Uruguay 28-12 and although Ireland then breezed past Japan 33-12, the Americans had done enough to win the Pool on points difference.
Ireland went through to the Cup last eight, too.
Pool D started with a bang as South Africa showed they mean business at this tournament, Shilton van Wyk (2), Selvyn Davids, Christie Grobbelaar and Shaun Williams scoring tries in a 34-5 win over Canada.
Agustin Fraga led the way with a try double as Argentina got their campaign underway with a 20-5 win over Spain.
Next up Fraga was at it again, scoring two more tries with Marcos Moneta also doubling up as they defeated Canada 29-14.
Spain pushed South Africa hard, but tries from Dalvon Blood, Davids and Williams - as well as two conversions - got the latter through 19-12.
All of which meant South Africa and Argentina knew their match versus each other would decide who topped the Pool.
A late Zain Davids’ five pointer gave South Africa a 17-14 triumph in that one and both sides will be in the Cup last eight.
Tries from Josiah Morra and Thomas Isherwood made sure Canada finished third in the Pool after a 12-5 victory over Spain.
Women’s Pool A
New Zealand won three out of three to top Pool A.
First up, they eased into things with a 58-0 win over Papua New Guinea, Stacey Fluhler leading the way with a hat-trick of tries.
That was just after Fiji had opened up with a 19-14 triumph over Great Britain, Ana Maria Naimasi, Lavena Cavuru and Adi vani Buleki with the tries for the victors.
Grace Crompton scored a try double for Great Britain in their second outing as they saw off Papua New Guinea 36-0 and then New Zealand continued to show their class versus Fiji.
Risi Pouri-Lane, Michaela Blyde, Jazmin Felix-Hotham, Fluhler and Sarah Hirini ran in tries in a 27-0 win.
Fiji bounced back in some style when Maria Rokotuisiga scored four tries in a 50-0 win over Papua New Guinea before New Zealand and Great Britain closed out day one.
Two unconverted Blyde tries put New Zealand 10-0 up at the break and Fluhler and then Portia Woodman-Wickliffe crossed in the second period to complete a 20-0 victory.
It all means that New Zealand, Fiji and Great Britain go through to the Cup quarter-finals.
Women’s Pool B and Pool C
Australia and USA topped Pool B and Pool C respectively after three wins from three.
Pool B got off to a dramatic start when a late try by Ian Jason and a conversion by Yolaine Yengo gave France a 12-12 draw versus Canada.
Maddison Levi led the way with two tries as Australia, the Dubai champions, defeated Japan 26-14 to get up and running.
Jason was in the tries again and Joanna Grisez, Lili Dezou and Valentine Lothoz also crossed in a 26-12 win for France over Japan.
Levi scored two more tries as Australia then made it two wins from two, seeing off Canada 33-7.
Japan bounced back from two losses to defeat Canada 17-7, Yume Hirano, Michiyo Suda and Mayu Yoshino their try scorers.
Levi scored tries five, six and seven of an amazing day for her as Australia dominated France 43-0 to finish top of the Pool.
Faith Nathan, Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea, Sharni Williams and Madison Ashby also scored in that one.
Australia, France and Japan are through to the Cup last eight.
Pool C got going with a routine 28-5 win for Ireland over Brazil, Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe the standout performer with two tries.
Cheta Emba (3), Sammy Sullivan and Kristi Kirshe then crossed as USA showed they are ones to watch with a 31-12 triumph over Spain.
Murphy Crowe, Kathy Baker, Lucy Mulhall, Beibhinn Parsons and Emily Lane bagged Irish tries in a 31-5 defeat of Spain and then a Sullivan hat-trick stood out as USA thumped Brazil 41-0.
That meant that Ireland and USA would fight it out for top spot.
An unconverted try double from Naya Tapper put USA 10-0 up at half-time in that one and, in the end, the Americans won 15-7.
Brazil bounced back from their two previous losses to beat Spain 36-17 and grab third place in the Pool.
Marcelle Souza, Thalia Costa (2), Mariana Nicolau, Gabriela Lima and Camilla Carvalo were their try scorers in that one.
USA and Ireland will be in the Cup quarter-finals.
Lots to look forward to on day two
The teams in the men’s and women’s events will do it all again as they battle it out in the placings matches on Sunday.
In the men’s Cup quarter-finals South Africa will play France, Fiji will meet Argentina, USA will play Australia and New Zealand will be taking on Ireland.
The women’s Cup quarter-finals will see Australia play Great Britain, USA will take on Fiji, France will tackle Ireland and Japan will have to try and stop the hosts New Zealand.