With hosts Argentina in action and the buzz around rugby sevens at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, the number of fans wanting to watch at the Club Atletico San Isidro sede la Boya on Saturday meant that additional areas had to be opened to accommodate them.
Five teams ended an entertaining opening day with two wins from two, three women’s in France, New Zealand and Canada, and two men’s in Argentina and France.
From the opening game, under a blazing spring sun, New Zealand confirmed their desire to succeed Australia at Youth Olympic champions by winning their two games comfortably and putting on a show of raw talent that can only bring an idea of what the future looks like for women’s rugby.
New Zealand were too hot for both Tunisia and Colombia, 10 of their 12 players scoring their 15 tries on the day. Iritana Hohaia scored a brace in the opening game – a 53-0 defeat of Tunisia – and managed a third for the day in the 38-5 victory over Colombia.
That try scored by Colombia’s efficient play-maker Laura Mejía from a quickly-taken penalty earned the biggest cheer of the day outside of Argentina’s matches and was just reward for their persistence.
France also recorded impressive wins over Colombia (47-0) and Kazakhstan (45-0) to top the table on points difference. Their best player was Alycia Christiaens, who not only created a lot of opportunities for her team-mates, but scored 31 points in a busy afternoon.
A hat-trick against Kazakhstan came after an earlier brace against the South Americans, instantly marking her out as a player of the future.
Canada were the other unbeaten team, although they had to battle hard in their opening match against a Kazakhstan side who scored a hat-trick from strong 17-year-old Vlada Odnoletok in the 24-15 defeat.
It took the Sandro Fiorino-coached team time to settle their Olympic nerves, but they were strong and efficient against Tunisia, scoring six tries – three of them by Kendra Cousineau – in the 50-7 win. They continue to be a medal contender, but their crunch game for the second day will be against New Zealand.
Elsewhere, Tunisia were very well led by their captain Halima Ben Charrada, who ensured her side never gave in despite the tries mounting up against them. She was key in her team’s only try of the day, scored by Arbi Chaima, three minutes from time against Canada.
The men’s competition opened with a bang. In Rio 2016, Japan beat New Zealand 14-12 to shock the sevens world. Two years later, their U18 side beat South Africa by the same margin, to the surprise of the huge crowd. It was a hard game in which the Japanese needed all their strength and ability to control a strong South Africa that failed to ignite at the right time.
However, their efforts appeared to have taken their toll when they went down 45-0 to hosts Argentina in their other match on day one, the host nation squeezing the ball from them to the delight of the vocal crowd.
South Africa surprisingly ended the day with two defeats, although had they used the width of the pitch in the final seconds against France it may well have been a different story.
France’s men were as equally impressive as their female counterparts, particularly Erwan Dridi who displayed some of the day’s best footwork as he scored a try in both the 38-0 defeat of USA and closer 17-12 win over South Africa.
Argentina were probably the most composed side on the opening day once their nerves had settled.
A physically strong Samoan side opened the score through Tuma Tuitama, but within a minute Ramiro Costa hit back and Argentina didn’t look back to seal an eight-try 50-7 win in which Marcos Moneta showed his huge speed for a brace.
Samoa had looked on course to bounce back by beating USA, but the Americans fought back with two tries to draw level at 24-24 only for Jon Rodriguez to miss a seemingly straightforward conversion in front of the posts.