England had to settle for second place in Pool D after losing to Australia in an enthralling decider in the final match of day one of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2019 opening round in Dubai on Friday, but nothing could take away from Dan Norton’s moment of history.
They will meet the defending Dubai and series champions South Africa in the first Cup quarter-final at 11:00 local time (GMT+4), while unbeaten Australia will face Argentina who upset the Blitzboks to pip Samoa to second place on points difference. The two other unbeaten sides on day one, Fiji and New Zealand, will meet USA and Scotland respectively.
Norton, an Olympic silver-medallist with Team GB at Rio 2016, made his debut on the series back in 2009 and has had this milestone in his mind for a while.
“It was a nice feeling. Obviously, I’ve had the whole of pre-season to think about it but at the same time I was excited about the whole season ahead of us,” he said. “I’m pretty excited to have my Dad here in the crowd with his big, massive flag. It’s an amazing present for the family and I want to thank my team-mates from the past and current as well.”
The Challenge Trophy quarter-finals will kick-off proceedings on Saturday with Samoa tackling Japan, Spain facing Kenya, Canada meeting Zimbabwe and France facing Wales.
South Africa kicked off their quest for a third successive series and Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens title with a straightforward 31-0 win over invitational side Zimbabwe. Neil Powell’s men used their experience to keep their opponents scoreless with Rosko Specman scoring a brace of tries.
A physical and tough encounter against Samoa followed, where the full range of the Blitzboks’ repertoire was needed to break down Gordon Tietjens stoic outfit.
Samoa’s early meeting with Argentina was a classic game of two halves as Samoa were 21-0 ahead at half-time before coach Santiago Gómez Cora laid down the law to his Los Pumas Sevens. The result was a three-try comeback, including an 11th-minute try from Franco Sabato, but it wasn’t quite enough as they went down 21-19.
Zimbabwe didn’t prevail over Argentina, despite eye-catching work from Biselele Tshamala and Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, and South Africa’s win over Samoa meant that it was left to Los Pumas Sevens and Samoa to jostle for second position. Samoa went into their final game with quarter-final qualification in their sights but knew that Zimbabwe would be a handful and that Argentina still had to play the Bitzboks after them.
Samoa did all that they could with a hard-fought 17-15 win, but the victory would prove to be in vain as Argentina, led by captain Gaston Revol, were inspired to overturn a 12-point deficit against the defending champions. All three teams finished on seven points, but Samoa missed out on points difference.
Olympic champions and 2018 series runners-up Fiji progressed out of Pool B unbeaten.
They burst out of the blocks in their opening match, powering past France 41-0 with Sevuloni Mocenacagi scoring the first of their seven tries by six different players. They coupled prolific attack with solid defence.
Scotland also started well with a 35-14 win over Kenya and almost snatched a last-gasp victory over Fiji when the two met next. Gareth Baber’s men held a nine-point lead going into the final two minutes before Sam Pecqueur’s try set up a box-office finish. Jamie Farndale crossed in the final moments but delayed his grounding and his foot strayed out of play and the potential match-winning try was chalked off with Fiji escaping with a 21-19 victory.
Scotland were able put their disappointment aside to earn a 14-14 draw against France, which proved enough to secure second place and in the final Pool match of the day Fiji ensured their clean-sweep with another try-filled performance.
Both USA and New Zealand declared their intentions about starting this new series strongly by recording early victories over Spain and Wales to create a pool decider.
The recently crowned World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year 2018 Perry Baker showed his prowess with a brace in their 29-0 defeat of Spain and added a third try against Wales.
Andrew Knewstubb was the man of the moment for the All Blacks Sevens. He provided 13 of their 28 points against Wales and they backed that performance up with a solid 28-17 result against Spain.
The duel between the two started with Baker going to the sin-bin after infringing from the restart and New Zealand capitalised. The USA couldn’t find their rhythm while Clark Laidlaw’s men turned on the charm to run out 24-7 victors.
This pool started in style with Norton crossing for his landmark 300th try after just four minutes of England’s match with Canada. The 30-year-old kick-started England’s scoring and would finish day one with three to his name.
England looked settled during their victories over Canada (26-12) and Japan (31-7) while Australia also made their opponents sit up and take note.
Australia, who have never won the tournament in Dubai, racked up the highest points total of the first eight matches with their 43-0 win over Japan. Throughout, Maurice Longbottom’s electric feet played havoc with defenders and the duel for pool supremacy with England lived up to its billing.
England’s first half saw them receive two yellow cards, one for Charlton Kerr’s high tackle and one for Tom Mitchell’s deliberate knock-down. But, they went into the second half 14-12 ahead. The lead continued to swing back and forth but a constant was England’s straying discipline as they received a third yellow card with two minutes to go. Ben O’Donnell capitalised on the extra space out wide and his try secured their 22-19 win and top spot.