The top five teams in the Series standings – USA, New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and England – all claimed victories in their first group phase games on the opening day in front of another huge crowd at the Hong Kong Stadium, which also witnessed the first two pool matches in the Men’s World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier 2019.
With just eight pool matches played in the Cathay Pacific/HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series event on day one, it was England’s Dan Norton who grabbed the headlines as he surpassed Kenya’s Collins Injera to become the new all-time leading Hong Kong sevens try-scorer with 32 tries.
Norton’s try kick-started a significant English comeback against Wales. Despite holding a 15-game sevens series winning streak over Wales, they went into half-time 19-5 down. Norton crossed one minute into the second half and England then dominated to secure a 29-19 victory.
The ten-point win sets Simon Amor’s team on the right track and they will be well-aware of the importance of going as far as possible in Hong Kong with just a few rounds remaining after this one. At the end of the 2019 series the top four teams will qualify directly for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. England are Team GB’s designated qualifying outfit, and with just 33 points separating the top five teams going into this seventh stage it’s all to play for.
Elsewhere in Pool D it was a straightforward first victory for the world series leaders the USA. The side held a 22-0 cushion over Spain after seven minutes and turned that into a 36-7 victory. Mike Friday’s outfit look well-set to commence day two strongly against Wales before meeting England.
From the moment that it was drawn, Pool C – Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Kenya – had everyone gripped and it did not disappoint. A Trans-Tasman clash saw New Zealand convert a 21-14 half-time lead into a 40-19 victory. The Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 winners flew and Joe Webber marked his return from a year out by scoring the last of their six tries.
Gareth Baber’s outfit, who currently sit third in the overall world series standings, commenced their quest for an unprecedented fifth consecutive victory in Hong Kong in hypnotic form. In a rematch of last year’s Cup Final against Kenya, they scored three tries in the first five minutes by offloading and keeping the ball alive beautifully. Fiji held a 17-0 lead at the break and despite their opponents getting a try back, the reigning champions finished the job 22-5.
Argentina and the Vancouver silver medallists, France, both opened their Pool B accounts on the right note. While in Pool A, the winners in Vancouver and the defending HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions, South Africa, were given a small early care. They trailed 7-5 to Japan but turned it around after the interval through 17 unanswered points to prevail 22-7. Elsewhere in the pool, Samoa showed greater precision than their opponents Scotland to secure a 17-7 triumph.
The series teams return to action in the Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday when Samoa face Japan in Pool A at 11:16 local time (GMT+8).
The Men’s World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier is running parallel to the 16-team Cathay Pacific/HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2019 event.
Twelve teams are battling it out with the winner taking the prestigious prize of core team status for 2020. After two rounds of pool matches, Germany, Chile, Russia, Hong Kong and Tonga are all two from two with Ireland winning one match and drawing another.
Germany, who have finished as runners-up in the last two series qualifiers, were pushed hard in both of their day one matches in Pool G. They had to come from behind in each to make sure of a clean sweep. Vuyo Zangqa’s outfit first faced Uganda and eventually ran out 19-12 winners before beating the Cook Islands late 10-7.
Chile, the invitational team in Las Vegas and Vancouver last month, showed the type of power that saw them draw with the defending HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions South Africa in the USA. Los Condores Sevens notched up five tries in each of their Pool G matches – a 31-5 win over the Cook Islands and a 33-7 result against Uganda. Rodrigo Fernandez finished with a personal day-one tally of 22 points.
Under the leadership of head coach Waisale Serevi, a man who needs no introduction, Russia started their quest to bounce straight back onto the world series stage well. They put 26 points past Uruguay (and kept them scoreless) before overpowering Jamaica by 26-10. They sit on top of Pool F going into the second day.
Ireland, semi-finalists last year and bronze medalists as an invitational side in London in 2018, sit behind Russia in Pool F. Anthony Eddy’s men initially shook off any nerves and commenced with a 26-0 win over Jamaica. In their second match they started like a freight train, going 26-7 up against Uruguay, before facing a potential match-losing conversion. For Los Teros Sevens, Tomas Ubilla skewed the kick wide and, to their relief, Ireland avoided defeat.
In Pool E, Tonga and Hong Kong both progress into their final pool encounter after back-to-back victories. Tonga showed exactly what they could do as the invitational team in Hamilton and Sydney and brought their trademark blend of power and pace to their work at the Hong Kong Stadium. Hong Kong used the energy that comes from ardent home support to help them over the line against both the Philippines and then Zimbabwe in the final qualifying match of the day.
Uganda and the Cook Islands will open proceedings on day two at 9.00am local time (GMT+8) with two unbeaten sides – Chile and Germany – going head to head directly after in Pool G.