Fiji caused the surprise of the opening day at the HSBC Cape Town Sevens 2019 with an impressive 38-19 defeat of Russia at Cape Town Stadium on Friday.
The first ever women’s competition to be played in the Mother City – the 16th location in the history of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – had otherwise seen the top five nations in the standings enjoy comfortable wins in their opening pool matches.
New Zealand, series leaders and champions in Dubai last weekend, were one of four teams not to concede a point as they best hosts South Africa 40-0. Australia, Canada and Glendale winners USA also kept their opponents scoreless.
France survived a mini second-half fight-back by Spain to triumph 36-12, but it was Fiji who came out on top of a topsy-turvy match with Russia, scoring four second-half tries to record their highest ever score in the fixture.
The action continues at 08:45 local time (GMT+2) on Friday when Olympic champions Australia take on Ireland. The teams will complete their pool matches on day two with the knockout stages to bring the curtain down on the historic tournament on Sunday.
Fiji enjoyed a dream start against Russia, scoring with just 20 seconds played through Roela Radiniyavuni. A great hand-off from Fiji captain Raijieli Daveua saw her extend the lead to 12-0, but Russia came storming back with tries by Elena Zdrokova and Kristina Seredina (2) to lead 19-12 at half-time. The second half was all Fiji, though, with their physicality resulting in a four-try blitz with Daveua scoring her second and Tokasa Seniyasi grabbing a brace in the 38-19 win.
New Zealand had two players celebrating birthdays on day one at Cape Town Stadium in World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year 2019 Ruby Tui and Alena Saili, the latter celebrating her 21st with two first-half tries against invitational side South Africa who were playing on home soil for the first time. The Dubai winners ran in six tries in total, debutant Mahina Paul – a gold medallist at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018 – scoring the last one in a 40-0 victory.
A great cross-field kick from Caroline Drouin was claimed on the stretch by Séraphine Okemba, who shrugged off her defender to run in the opening try for France. Drouin was again provider for France’s second, finding Chloé Pelle – playing in her 30th series event – in space out wide. Les Bleues had extended their lead to 24-0 by half-time, but Marina Bravo and Lide Erbina briefly gave Spain hope of a comeback with early tries before Okemba completed her hat-trick for a 36-12 victory.
Canada were equally impressive with their direct running and physicality creating plenty of opportunities against Brazil, Kayla Moleschi scoring a try to mark joining New Zealand captain Sarah Hirini as the most-capped player in women’s series history with her 36th event – a milestone her team-mate Bianca Farella also reaches in Cape Town – in a 32-0 victory. Canada hadn’t looked back after Sara Kaljuvee had set them on the road to victory with two first-half tries against the Brazilians.
Ellia Green had the honour of scoring the first-ever women’s series try in Cape Town after a prolonged period of Australian pressure in the England 22 and she quickly added a second with a long run-in. The flyer nearly had a third before the break, but was stopped just short to leave her one behind Australia’s record try-scorer Emilee Cherry. The Olympic champions were simply too strong for England, running in six tries in a 32-0 victory with Madison Ashby also grabbing a brace.
Alev Kelter then scored the opening two tries for Glendale champions USA in their encounter with Ireland to become her country’s top try-scorer with 83, a mantle she held for all of four minutes as Naya Tapper ran 90 metres in the second half to draw level. The USA were simply too strong for Ireland, pouncing on any error to run in six tries – the last through captain Abby Gustaitis – to triumph 38-0 and top Pool C at the end of day one from Australia.