DUBAI 7S: BlitzBoks cruise, as Fiji gets knocked out
DAY ONE WRAP: Fiji missed out on a place in the Cup play-offs in the second round of the Dubai leg of the World Series.
South Africa, the pre-tournament and series favourites, are still on course for a Dubai hat-trick.
After last weekend’s tournament was played behind closed doors, fans were welcomed back into The Sevens Stadium and they were royally entertained on day one in Dubai on Friday.
And as the stands steadily filled up throughout the day with people donned from head to toe in all manner of fancy dress, the point that past glories count for nothing in the wonderfully unpredictable game of rugby sevens was soon hammered home.
Shock defeats to France and Spain meant that for only the second time in World Series history in Dubai – 2019 was the other occasion – double Olympic men’s champions Fiji failed to make it through to a Cup quarterfinal.
Argentina was beaten by Fiji in their final game, but they were already assured of top spot in Pool C by then, and ultimately a quarterfinal tie against Great Britain.
France’s reward for finishing as pool runners-up is a last-eight date with the United States, who finished second in Pool B behind peerless Australia.
Reigning Dubai champions South Africa were the only other team to beat everyone in front of them as they extended their record Series-winning run to 21 matches.
Kenya, their opponents in the Vancouver Final of the 2021 Series, stand in the way of the BlitzBoks and a place in the semifinals.
If they go all the way, South Africa would be the first team in almost two decades to win a hat-trick of titles in Dubai.
“The thing with us being at the top, everyone wants to come at us but as a system, we stuck together and pulled it through,” said JC Pretorius, who put in another warrior-like shift.
“We love Dubai, it has the same weather as South Africa.”
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The top spot rested on the outcome of the final fixture – a rematch of the Edmonton final from the 2021 Series between South Africa and a Great Britain side playing in their final tournament before the English, Scots and Welsh go their separate ways.
South Africa had got to that stage with wins against Japan (48-0) – when no less than eight different players helped themselves to tries – and Ireland (21-12) that, on paper, looked closer than it actually was, with the Irish scoring a consolation try deep into added time.
Meanwhile, Max McFarland scored doubles for Great Britain in what were two contrasting wins. With Jordan Conroy marking his return to the World Series with a brace of tries, Ireland found themselves in front, but McFarland crossed not once but twice to break their hearts. Japan presented no such problems in Great Britain’s second outing, the Asian side conceding six tries in a 36-14 defeat.
Both the BlitzBoks and Great Britain were already guaranteed a place in the Cup quarterfinals when they met in a high-quality match that was ultimately decided by the ever-dangerous Ronald Brown, who exploited the space created by Morgan Williams’ sin-binning with an arcing run to the line on the 12-minute mark. Brown’s try came after first-half efforts from Zain Davids and Shilton van Wyk.
Alex Davis had given Great Britain hope with a try on the stroke of half-time but the BlitzBoks were in no mood to slip up and stifled any opposition attacks with their suffocating defence.
In the previous encounter, Ireland closed out their opening day with a convincing 41-0 victory over Japan in which Terry Kennedy, the top try-scorer in round one, and Jordan Conroy bagged two tries apiece. The margin of victory saw them go through to the Cup quarterfinals as the best third-placed side.
Pool A results
Great Britain 24-21 Ireland
South Africa 48-0 Japan
Great Britain 36-14 Japan
South Africa 21-12 Ireland
Ireland 41-0 Japan
South Africa 21-7 Great Britain
The seminal moment in Pool B came when Perry Baker scorched clear of the defensive cover with the clock well into the red to seal a 24-21 comeback win for the United States against Kenya.
That set up what was effectively a play-off with Australia for top spot in the pool as both teams had won their opening games, the United States seeing off North American rivals Canada 38-14 in their first outing, while Australia had come out on the right side of one-score games against the same opponents, beating Kenya 21-14 and Canada 24-17.
Tries from Solomone Vosaicake, Yool Yool and Corey Toole to one from Stephen Tomasin in reply saw Australia into a healthy 17-7 half-time lead.
United States’s reputation as comeback kings looked like ringing true when Baker went over for the first of his two tries at the start of the second half, but Josh Turner’s score gave Australia a big enough cushion. The game ended with Baker crossing again and a red card to Billy Meakes for a dangerous tip-tackle.
Kenya’s one win, 26-14 against Canada, was enough for them to book their place in the quarterfinals as eighth seeds.
Pool B results
Australia 21-14 Kenya
United States 38-14 Canada
Australia 24-17 Canada
United States 24-21 Kenya
Kenya 26-14 Canada
United States 19-22 Australia
With the Olympic gold and bronze medallists, Fiji and Argentina, and two highly-respected European core teams France and Spain involved, Pool C always promised to be hugely competitive, and so it proved.
No one could have predicted though that double Olympic champions Fiji would lose their first two games and miss out on the Cup quarterfinals, even if 10 of their 13-man squad had never played on the World Series before the Dubai fortnight.
Having lost to France for only the second time in World Series history, the Pacific Islanders were then on the wrong side of another upset as Spain scored an historic victory. Los Leones had never beaten Fiji at this level before but were worthy 33-19 winners thanks to braces from Manu Moreno and the rangy Tobias Sainz-Trapaga.
Sainz-Trapaga doubled up against France but Les Bleus Sevens turned in an impressive display of fast and dynamic rugby to win 33-14. Jordan Sepho and Nelson Epee were unstoppable on the edge and on the evidence of this display, an exciting new era beckons for French rugby in not only 15s but also sevens.
It was also a special day for one of their more senior players as Jonathan Laugel, 28, became France’s most-capped sevens player by appearing in his 71st tournament.
By beating Spain, France became the first team to book their place in the quarterfinals but Argentina were already assured of top spot by then, on the head-to-head ruling. Los Pumas Sevens kicked off the day with a 21-14 win over Spain before seeing off France by an identical scoreline.
Typical of a proud rugby nation, a youthful Fiji managed to galvanise themselves and show their true colours against Argentina – even though they were playing in a changed strip of blue and black – to finish the day on a high.
Kaminieli Rasaku set up two and scored another in a sizzling first-half performance that brought them 26 unanswered points. Waisea Nacuqu completed his hat-trick after the break in a 40-7 victory that meant Fiji avoided the ignominy of losing all three pool matches in a World Series event for the first time.
Pool C results
Fiji 17-22 France
Argentina 21-14 Spain
Fiji 19-33 Spain
Argentina 21-14 France
France 33-14 Spain
Argentina 7-40 Fiji
DAY TWO PREVIEW
There have been only two teams to win the Cup title in Dubai without topping their pool, a feat Great Britain, Ireland, United States, Kenya and France will be looking to achieve when play resumes in Dubai on Saturday. New Zealand won the Cup final in 2002 despite finishing second in their pool behind Samoa, while England repeated this effort in 2010 after finishing second to Fiji.
The men’s Cup quarterfinals begin with a match between Pool B winners Australia and the best third-place side Ireland. Australia may have enjoyed a perfect day on Friday but with Jordan Conroy firing on all cylinders for the men in green after sitting out round one, this is anything but a foregone conclusion.
Next up it is the turn of Pool C winners Argentina and Pool A runners-up Great Britain to go head-to-head.
This will be followed by a meeting between the two second-place sides in Pools B and C, United States and France, while the Cup quarterfinals come to a conclusion when South Africa meet eighth seeds Kenya.