Fiji have missed out on the Cup quarter-finals for the first time in the 21-year history of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series round in Dubai, the series champions finishing third in Pool A behind France and Argentina on points difference.
The three teams all won two matches and lost one to finish on seven points, but France’s points difference was one better than Argentina at +28 with Fiji’s only +14. As a result, the best Fiji can hope for is ninth place and a maximum of eight series points now, providing they overcome Canada on Saturday at 16:06 local time (GMT+4).
Fiji’s downfall was a 24-21 loss to Argentina, who capitalised on the yellow card to Vilimoni Botitu to work Matias Moroni over with the final play of the game to cause the shock of the day and beat the Fijians for the first time since Vancouver in 2017. It was also Fiji’s first pool defeat in Dubai since England beat them back in 2010.
Australia, defending Dubai champions New Zealand and South Africa were the other pool winners and the only teams with a perfect record of three wins from three in the pool stages at 7he Sevens Stadium.
South Africa had the biggest scare in their Pool D decider with England, having to come from 14-0 down with 19 unanswered points to repeat the Springboks’ victory over the same nation in the Rugby World Cup 2019 final in Tokyo on 2 November. Australia beat USA 24-12 to top Pool B, while New Zealand were more comfortable 40-7 winners over Samoa in the Pool C decider.
The Cup quarter-finals will get underway at 11:14 local time (GMT+4) on Saturday with the encounter between France and England. New Zealand will then tackle USA in a repeat of the 2018 final – which the All Blacks Sevens won 21-5 – before South Africa meet Fiji’s conquerors Argentina in the third quarter-final and Australia face Samoa.
While Fiji and Canada, as the two best third-placed teams, will meet in the ninth place play-off, the 11th place play-off will be contested by the other teams to finish third in their pools, Ireland and Spain. Ireland’s flyer Jordan Conroy was another talking point on day two of the opening round, becoming the first man to score five tries in a series match since the USA’s Kevin Swiryn in Hong Kong in March 2010 as they snatched a 31-21 victory over Scotland with the last kick.
The teams finishing bottom of their pools will play-off for 13-16 with the 15th place play-off between Wales and Japan to follow the Cup quarter-finals, before Kenya face Scotland for 13th place.
France had survived a scare against Argentina on day one, but were far more clinical against invitational side Japan, scoring seven tries – including a hat-trick by Terry Bouhraoua – in a 41-5 victory. However, the biggest cheer of the match was for Japan’s consolation try at the end through captain Taichi Yoshizawa.
Series champions Fiji had also stuttered to victory in their opening match but tries by Botitu and Mele Derenalagi put them 21-12 up against Argentina midway through the second half. However, Argentina weren’t finished, captain Santiago Alvarez cutting the deficit to two points before Los Pumas Sevens made Fiji pay for Botitu’s yellow card at the death, working Moroni over to end a seven-match losing streak against the Islanders.
Argentina knew they needed to score as many points as possible in their final pool match against Japan and they crossed for five tries, the final two from Matias Osadczuk to run out 33-7 winners as this weekend’s invitational team.
Fiji had won 14 matches in a row against France, but it was Les Bleus who found themselves 14-0 up after Marvin O’Connor and Bouhraoua tries in a little over four minutes. Waisea Nacuqu got Fiji on the board before half-time and three further tries – including one from Jerry Tuwai, the World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year 2019 in association with HSBC – saw them score 24 unanswered points.
Some slick passing and offloading saw Australia race into a 26-0 lead against new core team Ireland, Josh Turner setting up Henry Hutchison before scoring one himself. The Irish did finish the half strongly with tries by Conroy and Teddy Kennedy but the damage was done, Australia running out 45-21 winners with Lachie Anderson scoring their seventh try at the death.
Long-range run-ins were the order of the day in Scotland’s match with USA. Scotland captain Robbie Fergusson burst through for the opening try but Maka Unufe, Perry Baker and Joe Schroeder all raced away from distance to to give the Sevens Eagles a 31-21 victory.
Their Cup quarter-final hopes were over, but that didn’t stop Ireland and Scotland from putting on a show for the crowd with Conroy showing his pace in a first-half hat-trick that gave the Irish a 19-12 advantage. Conroy added a fourth but Scotland looked to have snatched the win after the hat-trick try by Sam Pecqueur. However, Conroy hadn’t finished yet and scored his fifth, which Mark Roche converted for a 31-29 victory.
Fans didn’t get to see the much-anticipated match-up of speedsters Trae Williams and Carlin Isles, but what they got was a fast start from Australia with Anderson’s try the first of three they scored to lead last year’s runners-up USA 17-0 early in the second half. Unufe gave the Sevens Eagles hope but Hutchison’s second of the game ensured Australia topped the pool with an unbeaten record for the second visit to Dubai in a row – the first time they have done this since the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 series.
Samoa had to come from behind for a second match in a row after Ben Roach opened the scoring for Wales, tries from captain Tomasi Alosio, Paul Scanlan, John Vaili and Elisapeta Alofipo (2) – their match-winner against Canada on day one – wrapping up the 31-12 victory to confirm their place in the Cup quarter-finals.
New Zealand were always in control of their match with Canada, Salesi Rayasi completing his hat-trick midway through the second half as the All Blacks Sevens ran out comfortable 31-7 winners to set up a pool decider with Samoa.
Roach again opened the scoring for Wales in their match with Canada, but unfortunately for them a brace of tries from Isaac Kaay ensured the North Americans picked up their first win of the tournament, 31-14.
Ahead of the pool decider both teams came together to pay tribute to those affected by the measles epidemic in Samoa. Joe Perez then sliced through the defence to give Samoa the perfect start, but the All Blacks Sevens came storming back with Andrew Knewstubb scoring two of their six unanswered tries in a 40-7 win.
Dan Bibby’s try, following a great offload from Harry Glover, gave England a 12-0 lead and seemingly control of the match with Kenya. However, Nelson Oyoo’s try set up a nervous finish and try as they might, Kenya couldn’t find that try to give them at worst a draw with England relieved to kick the ball out for the final whistle.
South Africa had also found Kenya tough to put away, but the dancing feet of Rosko Specman set them on the road to victory against Spain. The returning Blitzboks star also scored their fifth and final try in the 35-5 victory, Spain’s only reply coming Pol Pla.
Kenya and Spain were both seeking their first win of the tournament and each scored two tries in the first half, a missed conversion by Los Leones captain Francisco Hernandez the reason Kenya led 14-12. Hernandez was unable to convert Spain’s next two tries, but fortunately for him Kenya were only able to score one try and came up just short, losing 22-19.
The final match of the day was an enthralling affair between England and South Africa. Tries from Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Dan Norton gave England a 14-0 lead, but Ryan Oosthuizen squeezed over in the corner on the stroke of half-time to give the Blitzboks’ hope. Justin Geduld then knocked on in the act of ground, but instantly atoned when he ran round behind the posts to cut the deficit to two. He wasn’t finished there, though, ducking under the tackle of Glover to score what proved the winning try.