- South Africa, Argentina and Australia suffer shock defeats in men’s event
- Ireland earn first-ever win over Series leaders South Africa in opening game
- Canada notch last-gasp win over Vancouver champions Argentina
- Returning USA star Perry Baker scores hat-trick in win over Australia
- Women’s champions Australia kick off with two wins from two
- Free-scoring New Zealand also have perfect record, as do Canada, France and Ireland in women's competition
The three contenders for the men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title faced setbacks on a thrilling opening day at the HSBC France Sevens as South Africa, Argentina and Australia suffered shock defeats, but women’s champions Australia showed no signs of slowing down in Toulouse.
The full complement of 16 men’s and 12 women’s teams lined up for the first time at the Stade Ernest-Wallon, which plays host to the final event of the women’s 2022 Series and the third-last of the men’s campaign.
The battle for the men’s Series title is tight at the top, with 11 points separating the top three teams ahead of the France event: South Africa (111 points), Argentina (105) and Australia (100).
But all three were beaten on Friday, as South Africa suffered their first-ever Series defeat to an impressive Ireland side, before the USA took down Australia and Canada snatched a late win over second-ranked Argentina, winners of the previous round in Vancouver.
Those results leave the race for the men's Series title wide open, with England, France, New Zealand and Samoa topping the four Pools ahead of Saturday’s action.
Australia were crowned women’s Series champions in Langford earlier this month and they are on course to finish the season on a high after kicking off with back-to-back wins over South Africa and Fiji.
However, they could face fierce competition once again from Olympic gold medallists New Zealand, who scored 74 points without reply in their victories over Scotland and Spain, in just their second Series appearance of the season after Langford.
Hosts France also kicked off with two wins from two to the delight of the vibrant and youthful home crowd, as did Canada and Ireland.
Canada leave Pumas stunned
Vancouver champions Argentina picked up where they left off with a 43-5 win over Japan, with World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year Marcos Moneta notching a hat-trick from the bench.
But the Pumas were soon brought crashing back to earth in their second match. Canada, who sit 12th in the Series standings and lost their opening game to England 24-5, produced the shock of the day with a superb 19-12 win over Argentina.
The Canadians went in at the break 12-7 up but were pegged back to 12-12 after Tobias Wade’s late try.
However, David Richard danced through the Pumas defence in the final minute to claim a memorable victory and put England, who defeated Japan 21-10 in their second game, in the driving seat to top Pool A.
France and Fiji battle for top spot
France channeled all the energy of a noisy home support in their opening game in a 56-5 win over Wales, the biggest victory of any team in the men’s or women’s event on the opening day in Toulouse.
Les Bleus followed that up with another try fest, running in six scores in a 38-14 victory over a spirited Kenya side, as Joachim Trouabal played a starring role by scoring a hat-trick.
Fiji stand in the hosts’ way in the battle for top spot, after the Olympic champions earned a 26-5 win over Kenya before beating Wales 19-0 in the final game of the day.
All Blacks impress, USA stun Aussies
USA speedster Perry Baker made an outstanding return from injury by running in a hat-trick in an impressive 24-19 win for the Eagles over third-ranked Australia.
The Aussies responded well to the setback though, as a strong second half performance inspired a 28-7 win over Scotland to keep them in quarter-final contention.
New Zealand hit the ground running with an opening 19-0 win over the Scots, but they faced a stern challenge against the USA later in the day.
Joe Webber crossed the try line twice in the opening three minutes, but the Americans wouldn’t give up the fight and reduced the deficit to two points thanks to Lucas Lacamp and Kevon Williams tries either side of the break.
Akulia Rokolisoa’s score extended the All Blacks’ advantage again, but Dmontae Noble cut the gap to two points once more late on, and New Zealand required a turnover with the clock in the red to see out a narrow 19-17 victory.
Blitzboks stumble as Samoa fly
South Africa’s bid for a fifth Cup victory of the season, after missing out on the title in Singapore and Vancouver, got off to a disastrous start against Ireland.
The Blitzboks started brightly when Mfundo Ndhlovu crossed the try line after two minutes, but Terry Kennedy drew Ireland level before a stunning try starting on the Irish try line and ending with Jack Kelly sprinting under the posts from halfway turned the game on its head.
South Africa captain Siviwe Soyizwapi showed superb footwork to cross and get his side back into it, but a second try from the Series’ leading scorer Kennedy, his 34th in 36 matches this season, sealed a historic Irish win.
Spain’s Tiago Romero ran in a spectacular 80-metre try while wearing just one boot, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a 42-12 defeat to Samoa, and the Spaniards then went down 27-7 to South Africa despite running the Blitzboks close in the first half.
Samoa blew the Pool wide open with an astonishing comeback win against Ireland, fighting back from 14-5 down at half time to blow away the Irish in the second half and earn a 27-14 win that sparked passionate celebrations from the players.
Steve Rimoni and Paul Scanlan scored two tries apiece to underline Samoa’s credentials as serious contenders after their run to the semi-finals in Vancouver.
Aussies show champion quality
They might already have the Series crown in the bag, but Australia’s women showed no signs of taking the foot off the gas as they opened their Toulouse account with a 50-0 win over invitational side South Africa, with standout star Charlotte Caslick running in a hat-trick of tries.
An intriguing clash between Olympic bronze medallists Fiji and Malaga champions USA went the way of the Fijiana, who raced into a 26-0 lead within eight minutes before two late tries made the final score 26-12.
That set up a direct clash between the Aussies and Fiji for top spot in the pool, and Tim Walsh’s Australian side showed their champion quality by fighting back from 14-12 down at half-time to win 31-21.
A thrilling contest produced some sensational tries, such as Reapi Ulunisau’s stunning full-length solo run and a superb show-and-go effort from Australia’s Faith Nathan.
USA’s 22-0 win over South Africa leaves them in contention for a top-two finish ahead of day two, with the Americans level on four points with Fiji, two behind pool-toppers Australia.
Black Ferns continue momentum
New Zealand made a hugely impressive return to Series action in Langford earlier this month, narrowly losing to Australia in the final, and that fine form continued with a 45-0 rout of invitational side Scotland in their opening game.
Michaela Blyde, Niall Williams and Stacey Fluhler all bagged braces in that game, and Blyde repeated the feat by crossing the whitewash twice in a 29-0 win over Spain to consolidate the Black Ferns’ grip on top spot.
Canada are in the running to win Pool B too after beating Spain 26-12 in their opener before edging past a determined Scotland side with a 14-7 win.
Ireland and France set the pace
Langford bronze medallists Ireland got off to a flying start by beating England 31-12, largely thanks to Lucy Mulhall’s hat-trick – although the unstoppable Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe also got in on the try-scoring action.
They were then given a tough challenge against a Brazil team needing ranking points to try and avoid relegation, requiring a last-minute try from Murphy Crowe to snatch a 17-14 win and deny the Brazilians their first victory in the fixture for five years.
Olympic silver medallists France were roared to victory by the home crowd in their opener against Brazil, with Joanna Grisez bagging two tries in two first-half minutes to help the hosts on their way to a 24-7 victory.
Grisez was at it again later in the day as she crossed the whitewash twice in a 33-7 win over England, with Lou Noel also bagging a double in a ‘Le Crunch’ win that delighted the evening Toulouse crowd and set up a pool decider against the Irish.
Action-packed Saturday awaits
The women’s action gets underway at 09:30 local time when Spain face Scotland in Pool B, and the pool action will conclude with Ireland’s exciting Pool C clash with France at 11:30.
Australia face a big test against USA at 10:36 in one of the most eye-catching games of the final round of pool fixtures.
Placement ties kick off at 15:30, but all eyes will be on the Cup quarter-finals.
They get underway at 17:42 when the Pool B winner face the Best third placed team, with the Pool A winner then taking on the second-best third placed side at 18:26.
The Pool B runners-up are up against their Pool C counterparts at 19:37, before the women’s action concludes with the Pool C winners facing the Pool A runners-up at 20:35.
In the men’s event, Ireland face Spain at 12:00 for their concluding Pool D fixture, and the final round of pool games will be played out in succession between then and a mouth-watering clash between Fiji and hosts France at 14:34.
Placement matches take place from 16:14-17:20, before the Cup quarter-finals get underway with the Pool A winner against the Pool D runner-up at 18:04.
The Pool D winner faces the Pool A runner-up next at 18:48, before 1st Pool C vs 2nd Pool B at 20:05 and 1st Pool B vs 2nd Pool C at 21:03 concludes the day’s action.