BlitzBoks in dominant form in Dubai
DAY ONE WRAP: South Africa lived up to their favourites tag with a perfect start to their bid for glory on the opening day of the Dubai Sevens.
Olympic champions Fiji earned a stunning late win over Australia as the World Series returned in style.
The BlitzBoks, who are aiming for a fifth Series title this season, showed their class in wins over Ireland, Japan and Great Britain that set up a mouth-watering quarterfinal against third seeds Australia.
Not to be outdone, a Fijian side featuring just two players from the squad that won gold at the Tokyo Olympics defeated France and Canada before scoring a match-winning try in the final play of the game to take top spot off Australia.
New Zealand, winners in 2020, are unable to participate due to COVID-19 travel complications, but there was no shortage of quality on show in Dubai ahead of a huge year for the sport, with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and World Cup Sevens in Cape Town coming up in 2022.
Argentina’s men went unbeaten to top Pool B and earn a place in a quarterfinal lineup that was completed by Australia, the United States, Great Britain, Ireland and Kenya.
BlitzBok coach Neil Powell was pleased with his side’s performances, but added that his charges can still improve on their cohesion.
“The individuals played well but we haven’t played well as a team yet,” said Powell.
“One of the things I want us to step up tomorrow is to play well as a team, on defence and attack. Also, conceding five tries on the opening day is something that we will have to look at closely.”
In the absence of a number of regulars, Powell gave newcomers Shilton van Wyk and Tiaan Pretorius their first of World Series action.
“It was nice to give them a taste of what it’s like to play at this level,” said Powell.
“The standard [of play] was better than the opposition we faced in Canada, so it was a good test for them. So, some areas to improve on, but we laid a good foundation for day two.”
(Continue below …)
All eyes were on Fiji after their triumph in Tokyo as a much-changed side travelled to Dubai, featuring only two players from the Olympic squad: Josua Vakurunabili and Waisea Nacuqu.
But any unfamiliarity didn’t show, as a Fijian side featuring 11 debutants kicked off with a 24-15 win over fifth seeds France and continued to show buckets of their characteristic flair in a 29-14 victory against Canada.
Australia matched them, winning 35-19 against the Canadian before beating Les Bleus 17-10, setting up a decider for Pool A glory that lived up to the expectations.
Tries from Josh Turner and Ben Dowling completed a comeback for Australia after they went behind early, but Fiji cut the deficit to just two points when Iowane Teba scored his second try, and Iowane Raturaciri cut through a gap in the defence to score with the clock in the red.
Two Paulin Riva tries helped France defeat Canada 24-14 to take third place, but they were denied a quarter-final spot as their points difference was worse than the other two third-placed sides, Kenya and Ireland.
Pool A results
Australia 35-19 Canada
Fiji 24-17 France
Australia 17-10 France
Fiji 29-14 Canada
Canada 14-24 France
Fiji 17-12 Australia
Argentina came out on top in a thrilling battle for top spot in Pool B. The Olympic bronze medallists edged ahead of United States, Kenya and Spain as every team won at least one match.
Two tries from the speedy Luciano Gonzalez helped Los Pumas on their way to an opening 28-7 win over Spain, and the winger added another two in a 22-17 victory over a Kenyan side that won silver in Vancouver and bronze in Edmonton earlier this year.
Argentina’s final match against United States provided a rollercoaster encounter, as a double from American winger Carlin Isles was cancelled out by a spirited Argentinean comeback, only for a late Steve Tomasin try to earn the Eagles a 21-21 draw.
That was enough to send United States into the quarter-finals in second place, thanks to an earlier 14-7 win over Kenya, but they also suffered a 12-7 defeat to Spain, who earned their 100th World Series win.
Billy Odhiambo scored two tries as Kenya finished third in Pool B with a 26-12 win over Spain, setting up a challenging quarter-final clash with Fiji.
Pool B Results
United States 14-7 Kenya
Argentina 28-7 Spain
United States 7-12 Spain
Argentina 22-17 Kenya
Kenya 26-12 Spain
Argentina 21-21 United States
South Africa laid down an imposing marker to their title rivals with a perfect start to their Dubai Sevens campaign, beating closest rivals Great Britain 31-12 in their final match to comfortably finish top of Pool C with 111 points to their name.
The top seeds weren’t at their best in their opening 28-7 win over the Irish but still scored some superb tries, particularly when a huge tackle from Muller du Plessis in midfield led to a turnover, which Selvin Davids made the most of by bursting through the defence to score.
The South Africans made short work of Japan, promoted this year as World Rugby Challenger Series champions from 2020, in a 52-12 victory, but required a strong second half performance to see off Great Britain, who drew level at 12-12 after the break before shipping unanswered tries to Impi Visser, Siviwe Soyizwapi – his second of the match – and the BlitzBoks’ most-capped player Branco du Preez.
Pool C runners-up Great Britain, who will participate in the opening two rounds of the World Series in Dubai before reverting to compete as the national unions of England, Scotland and Wales for the remainder of the 2022 Series, started with a 17-12 win over Japan, but needed a last-gasp Jamie Barden try to beat Vancouver semi-finalists Ireland 26-19 in an engrossing match in which Englishman Tom Bowen scored his 100th series try.
Terry Kennedy scored a hat-trick in Ireland’s 33-0 win over Japan, which proved enough to earn them a quarter-final against Argentina.
Pool C results
South Africa 28-7 Ireland
Great Britain 17-12 Japan
South Africa 52-12 Japan
Great Britain 26-19 Ireland
Ireland 33-0 Japan
Great Britain 12-31 South Africa
DAY TWO PREVIEW
The Cup quarterfinals begin with a clash between Pool B winners Argentina and Ireland, the best third-placed side.
That will be followed up by a mouth-watering battle between tournament favourites South Africa and third seeds Australia, with the BlitzBoks looking to defend the Dubai title they won when the tournament was last played in 2020.
If the South Africans win their quarterfinal, they will equal their best-ever World Series winning streak of 16 matches, set back in 2008-09.
Great Britain take on the 2019 Dubai runners-up the United States, before the last eight clashes conclude with what promises to be a hugely entertaining meeting between Fiji and Kenya.