After enthralling competitions in Dubai and Cape Town, every side was eager hit the ground running at the FMG Stadium and particularly fast starts were made by last year’s finalists Fiji and the All Blacks Sevens.
Both progressed out of their pools in impressive fashion scoring 113 and 125 points respectively, meaning that Fiji booked a Cup quarter-final meeting with Canada while New Zealand will take on Australia.
The current world series leaders USA, who lost Perry Baker to a serious injury at the end of their first game, will face Scotland while the defending world series champions South Africa will encounter Samoa in the last eight.
“If we keep on supporting each other and have each other’s backs then we can go far in this tournament,” noted Branco Du Preez afterwards. “We didn’t have a solid start to kick-off so we just have to focus on the small things that we want to do and take more control of the game. We can take it from there.”
The Challenge Trophy quarter-finals will commence at 10:00 local time (GMT+13) with Argentina taking on Japan, Kenya facing Tonga, Spain meeting Wales and England testing themselves against France.
The defending HSBC New Zealand Sevens champions Fiji powered out of Pool A without a second look.
Gareth Baber’s outfit, clearly inspired by the ardent support from the stands, flew out of the blocks and scored five tries in their opening seven minutes on day one.
They kept their foot on the gas for a head-turning 54-7 victory over Wales before showing the same level of expertise against Argentina. A relentless 14 minutes saw them work hard beyond the buzzer and finish 33-24 winners having scored 13 tries in two matches.
Australia’s start to their day wasn’t quite as definitive – Lewis Holland’s late-turnover was needed to secure a 17-12 win over Los Pumas Sevens but a 26-5 victory over Wales followed. Debutant Josh Coward scored his first try on the world series during their second match and that result created a much-anticipated clash against Fiji for pool supremacy.
Australia had lost their 12 previous encounters with Fiji but they kept their opponents within a score 19-14 at the break, and locked the game at 19 points all in the second half.
However, Fiji found another gear to press 26-19 ahead and made sure of result through an outstanding tap tackle from Vilimoni Botitu on Ben O’Donnell.
This pool housed the leaders of the pack going into Hamilton – the USA – and Mike Friday’s men looked energized by the fact that they have reached the top of the standings for the first time in their history.
A 29-7 win over Tonga opened their day-one account and the match started on a high note with Folau Niua equaling Zack Test’s record of 62 tournaments for the USA. He scored their first try too but the encounter finished on a low note as Baker sustained his injury.
The speedster fractured his jaw and it has ruled him out of the whole tournament. He will now return home for surgery.
Samoa came next for the Men’s Eagles Sevens and despite conceding first they went 21-7 up after seven minutes. Throughout, Carlin Isles reminded all watching of his prowess in attack (with a hat-trick) and in defence to help deliver a 34-14 victory.
The USA ensured their clean sweep by pushing past England 19-7 just after 7pm local time (GMT+13) while Samoa’s determined victories over Tonga and England ensured that the second Cup quarter-final qualifying position belonged to them.
The Blitzboks’ quest to turn around a slower start to the defence of their world series title started on the right track with an unbeaten first day.
Kyle Brown celebrated equalling Frankie Horne’s record of 68 tournaments in a Blitzboks jersey by scoring the opening try in their first match of the day – a 29-10 win over Kenya. The team then followed that up with a 17-5 victory over France.
Les Bleus were first on to the park at the FMG Stadium and started the day by pushing Scotland all the way. Jéróme Daret’s men went 21-7 ahead before Scotland mounted their second-half comeback.
In the end, a Glenn Bryce brace helped them to prevail 26-21 and a 19-10 victory over Kenya ensured that the pool went down to the meeting between South Africa and Scotland.
The contest started with unforced errors from both teams before the Blitzboks settled first. Tries from Siviwe Soyizwapi and Branco Du Preez created a 12-point lead after seven minutes. Scotland got back in touching distance before South Africa leaned on the highly experienced Werner Kok and ultimately prevailed 26-7.
From the moment that they stepped on the park at the FMG Stadium, New Zealand never truly looked like they were going to finish anywhere other than at the top of Pool D.
In Cape Town, the All Blacks Sevens had to wait for a Vilimoni Koroi try in overtime to book their spot in Cup quarter-finals but in Hamilton they were miles away from such concerning times.
125 points and 19 tries over the course of their three matches tells the story of the tape and Koroi scoring after just nine seconds against Canada emphasised the point further.
That said, the gritty nature of Las Leones meant that it took New Zealand eight and a half minutes to break their defensive line but once they did they didn’t look back and finished with a 24-0 win. One concern though will be an injury sustained to Scott Curry in their final warm-up.
Behind them in the pool, Spain came so close to progressing into the last eight as runners-up but that final 24-point loss meant that Canada’s points difference finished marginally superior.