USA and Canada confirmed their places at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on a day that saw the Women’s Sevens Eagles, series leaders New Zealand and Australia go unbeaten at the HSBC France Women’s Sevens in Biarritz.
Defending champions New Zealand, Australia and USA recorded three wins from three on day one of the HSBC France Women’s Sevens in Biarritz on Saturday.
Australia, who have reached and lost every final in series history played in France, will face Spain in the opening Cup quarter-final at 11:00 local time (GMT+2) on Sunday after they overcame Kitakyushu champions Canada 27-14 in the Pool B decider.
That pits Canada into a Cup quarter-final with hosts France, after Les Bleues were beaten 19-7 by USA in the battle for top spot in Pool C, while the Women’s Sevens Eagles will meet Russia in the day’s second quarter-final.
New Zealand, the Pool A winners, will play China in the remaining quarter-final after the Asian side snatched a 15-14 win over Fiji to not only win their first pool match of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2019 but also keep alive their hopes of retaining their core status for next season.
Day one at the Stade Aguilera also saw USA and Canada confirm their places at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games alongside New Zealand, who qualified in Langford last month, and hosts Japan. This leaves one top four spot still to be decided with Australia holding a 14-point lead over France in the standings.
Meanwhile, in the Challenge Trophy semi-finals England will face Ireland before Scotland, who impressed on their series debut, tackle Fiji.
England raced into a 10-0 lead in their opening match after two tries in as many minutes by Deborah Fleming, but it was the Russians who emerged victorious – avenging back-to-back losses to England in Langford – with a brace from speedster Elena Zdrokova and another try by Daria Shestakova for a 17-10 win. Defending champions New Zealand started brightly against Scotland with first-half tries from Ruby Tui, Michaela Blyde and Tyla Nathan-Wong setting them on the way to an eight-try, 44-7 victory, Rhona Lloyd having the honour of scoring Scotland’s first series try.
England and Scotland, whose players could potentially line up on the same Great Britain team should they qualify for Tokyo 2020 via the European qualifier or Olympic repechage, produced an entertaining end-to-end affair, answering each other try for try and it looked like the Scots would secure their first series win after Abi Evans scored to give them a 24-17 lead. However, Beth Wilcock crossed with 30 seconds to go to leave Katie Mason with a kick to draw the match, which she just managed to convert. New Zealand had Blyde to thank for not conceding an early try to Russia, the flyer managing to get a hand under the ball to deny Daria Noritsina a try, and that would be as close as the Russians got with Shakira Baker grabbing two of her side’s five tries in a comfortable 31-0 victory.
Russia knew that victory over Scotland would ensure they reached the Cup quarter-finals at every round of the 2019 series and a hat-trick by captain Alena Mikhaltsova helped them to emerge 31-15 winners over Scotland, who again showed their potential by making the Russians work hard for their win, Lloyd crossing for her fourth try of the day in the defeat. New Zealand were already assured of a quarter-final place before taking on England, but a brace of tries by Alena Saili and Baker saw them to a 27-14 win over England and top spot in Pool A.
Ghislaine Landry scored the first try of the HSBC France Women’s Sevens 2019 and was quickly followed over the line team-mates by Brittany Benn and Bianca Farella as Canada led 17-0 at half-time. Olivia Fresneda gave Spain hope before Breanne Nicholas restored Canada’s 17-point cushion. Spain, to the delight of their vocal supporters, finished strongly with Maria Casado and Rookie of the Year nominee Lide Erbina tries making the final score 22-19. Australia were equally impressive with doubles from Emma Tonegato and Evania Pelite helping the Olympic champions kick off their bid for a first Cup title on French soil with a 27-5 defeat of Ireland.
Ireland threatened to cause an upset when tries by Eve Higgins and captain Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe gave them a 10-0 lead, but Canada were on top by half-time thanks to a brace of tries by Farella. Ireland had to score next and looked set to when Murphy Crowe broke, but she was turned over and instead Benn scored at the other end to help Canada wrap up not only a 27-10 win but also passage to Tokyo 2020. Australia were also made to work for their second win, tries from Tonegato and Charlotte Caslick turning a tight 17-14 advantage into 31-14 victory.
Spain, roared of by a large contingent of fans who had crossed the border into France to support them, twice had to come from a score down against Ireland with Maria Casado and Sabine Hurtado tries cancelling out the efforts of Emily Lane and Murphy Crowe. The difference between the sides provided to be Patricia Garcia’s solitary conversion, which sealed a 12-10 victory to keep Las Leonas in the hunt for the quarter-finals as one of the two best third-placed teams. Canada struck first in the decider with Australia through Farella, but a hat-trick from Charlotte Caslick and brace from Ellia Green ensured the Olympic champions ran out winners in this match, just as they had in Langford.
USA confirmed their qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games when they ran out in their opening match against China and a brace of tries from Kris Thomas ensured they celebrated in style with a 36-5 victory, although they did have to come from behind after Chen Keyi had broken free to give her side the lead. France then gave the home crowd plenty of reasons to cheer with a 29-0 victory over Fiji, Carla Neisen scoring a double with captain Fanny Horta marking her 30th tournament with her 49th series try.
Fiji, bidding to retain their core team status for next series, took the battle to the Women’s Eagles Sevens and led twice after tries from Vasiti Solikoviti and Raijieli Daveua only for the USA to come back. Fiji looked to have the winning try when Daveua broke, but Doyle chased her down and knocked the ball away with the line beckoning and USA escaped with a 14-12 win. France were more comfortable winners, Neisen and Coralie Bertrand scoring twice in a 36-0 defeat of China to set up the pool decider with USA.
China’s core team status was riding on their final pool match with Fiji, lose and they were relegated from the series, win and a first quarter-final of the season awaited them. Tries by Chen and captain Yan Meiling gave them the perfect start, but Fiji came back through Ana Maria Naimasi and Asinate Savu to lead 14-10 as the clock ticked down. China, though, found another try through Lyu Hewen to lead 15-14, Fiji losing Savu to a red card for her dangerous tackle in trying to prevent the try. China held on for their first pool victory of the season. France lost Anne-Cecile Ciofani to an early yellow card in the pool decider with USA and soon found themselves down 19-0 after tries by Cheta Emba, Kristi Kirshe and co-captain Lauren Doyle. They were unable to add to those tries, France scoring a late effort through Shannon Izar with Alev Kelter picking up her second yellow card for a high tackle on the try-scorer to take the gloss of the win for USA.