Hosts England and New Zealand are unbeaten after a thrilling day of action on the penultimate day of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in London.
The rain and sun traded places on day one in Twickenham as the 16 teams battled for position at the last tournament of the 2016-17 world series.
Sunday’s Cup quarter-finals will see USA play Australia, New Zealand face Scotland, England meet South Africa and Argentina take on Canada. Olympic gold medallists Fiji, who last failed to reach the Cup back at Las Vegas in 2014, find themselves in the Challenge Trophy quarter-finals against Russia and out of touch of England in the battle for second place in the overall standings.
Japan will not be one of the 15 core teams on the world series next year after they were relegated following a heavy 61-5 defeat to Fiji in the Pool stages.
Meanwhile, England’s Dan Norton climbed up the DHL Impact Player standings in London and is hot on the heels of Wales playmaker Sam Cross, who is just 10 points ahead overall in the Performance Tracker.
Wales showed their class during their opening Pool A match against USA with tries from Ethan Davies and Owen Jenkins keeping them on a par with the Americans at half time. A tremendous try-saving tackle from Luke Morgan on Martin Iosefo in the second half stopped USA’s momentum and set Wales on course for an impressive 28-12 victory.
New series champions South Africa had a slow start in Paris last week, losing to Scotland, and threatened to repeat that feat in London as they limped to a less than impressive 12-10 win over a physical Kenya side, who challenged them from the off.
USA made up for their earlier loss with a 47-0 demolition of Kenya in their second match of the day, but the highlight of the pool was undoubtedly the battle of South Africa and Wales, which went down to the wire on the Twickenham turf. Chasing the game at 12-5, the crowd erupted as Wales broke down the pitch following a James Benjamin interception allowing Owen Jenkins to cross in the final minute. However Billy McBryde couldn’t convert and the Blitzboks escaped with a 12-10 victory.
The hard work put in by the Welsh was undone by Kenya, who eclipsed Gareth William’s side with an impressive 28-14 win, ending Welsh hopes of a quarter-final appearance.
South Africa tore into USA with renewed intensity in their last pool match of the day, but it was Stephen Tomasin who opened the scoring for Mike Friday’s team, before a cheeky Ruhan Nel chip and chase try was cancelled out by Ben Pinkleman. The two teams were well matched and Siviwe Soyizwape used his power to put the sides level, until Perry Baker put on the jet shoes against Rosko Specman in the second half and crossed in the corner. Andrew Durutalo’s handoff and try ended the match, leaving it 24-12 to USA.
After hosting the ninth round of the series last weekend in Paris, France featured five newcomers in the team for London and their inexperience showed as they lost 35-7 to Argentina on Saturday morning.
Scotland, on a high from their appearance in the final last weekend, found it tough against a plucky Russian side and the 21-7 scoreline flattered captain Scott Riddell’s side, but they soon found their rhythm later in the day as tries from Mark Robertson, James Fleming, George Horne and Joseva Nayacavou helped them to a 26-19 win against Argentina.
France picked up the pace after their initial pool defeat; they were run close before beating Russia, 26-20, but surprised Scotland later in the day with a Pierre Popelin try making the difference as the French claimed victory, 17-12.
Later, Argentina’s 26-19 win over Russia was enough to ensure them passage to the quarter-finals where they’ll meet Canada on day two.
Fiji barely fired a shot in Paris last weekend, bowing out at the quarter-final stages, and they didn’t get off to a strong start in London, losing to Canada in the first game of the day as Canadian legend John Moonlight crashed over for his 100th career try in the last minute, to claim the win 22-19.
Fiji did however get their tournament back on track, but at the expense of Japan. They were victims of the biggest loss of the series as the Fijians ran in nine tries to win 61-5, a loss that was cruelly compounded as Japan were officially relegated as a result.
A recent School of Sevens featured the importance of decision making on the pitch and after their clash with New Zealand, Canada will rue a last-minute decision by Harry Jones not to pass infield, which would have resulted in a certain try. As it was, the All Black Sevens walked away with a 19-14 victory and set them on course for the quarters.
The clash of New Zealand and Fiji is always interesting in London, and this match lived up to the hype. The game was on a knife-edge when New Zealand’s Lewis Ormond intercepted a loose pass and sprinted over to score. Fiji fought back with a classy try from Jerry Tuwai but sub Jesse Houston closed the game out, ensuring Fiji would not make the Cup quarters.
Canada ensured their quarter-final position with a 28-14 win against Japan and will meet Argentina in the quarters on Sunday.
Despite a strong performance in Paris where they went unbeaten on day one, Samoa struggled in the first game of the day as Australia won easily, 34-5. A rapturous round of applause greeted England and Spain as tries from Dan Bibby, Ruaridh McConnochie, Ollie Lynsey-Hague and Phil Burgess ensured an easy 28-7 win for the host side.
Since winning a place on next season’s series in Hong Kong, Spain will have learned a lot but they’ll need to work hard on defence if they’re to compete, as Samoa scored six tries to beat the Spanish, 40-7.
Dan Norton is chasing USA’s Perry Baker for the series top try scorer and he narrowed the lead by scoring two against an Australian side that were much improved since Paris. Australia dominated for much of the first half but a yellow card to Boyd Killingworth swung the momentum in favour of the home side. Two tries for Norton made the difference, the last coming with extra panache for his home fans.
After Australia glided past Spain, 45-7, England and Samoa served up a classic that went down to the wire. With England trailing 17-19, Simon Amor’s side kept their composure to break down the tough Pacific defence with Alex Davis crashing over for the winning try to ensure a quarter-final with the series champions.