The Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 kicked off in spectacular style at the Cape Town Stadium on Friday, as the big-name sides successfully navigated a day of high-stakes knockout matches.
Cape Town is host to the eighth edition of the tournament - the first to be held in Africa - and a boisterous crowd cheered on the world’s best players at the start of a three-day event that is expected to bring in a record-breaking 150,000 fans.
New Zealand, reigning champions in the men’s and women’s events, enjoyed a strong start in both as the men earned a big win over Scotland and the women did likewise against Colombia.
The winner-takes-all knockout format leaves no room for error, but the tournament favourites in both events stood up to the pressure well.
In the men’s event, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions Australia comfortably beat Uruguay, while fan favourites Fiji knocked out Wales.
Hosts South Africa put Chile to the sword in the final game of the day, thrilling the home crowd with a glittering collection of tries that showcased the Blitzboks’ array of technical and physical skills.
Ireland, France, Samoa and Olympic bronze medallists Argentina also progressed to set up some mouth-watering quarter-final clashes on Saturday.
Australia’s women, also World Series winners and top seeds, thrashed debutants Madagascar as Faith Nathan scored a stunning five tries, while a Jaz Gray hat-trick helped USA to a confident win over Poland.
The raucous backing of the home crowd couldn’t push South Africa’s women to a shock result against third seeds France, as Les Bleues thrived in the atmosphere to take a 29-0 victory.
England, Ireland, Fiji and Canada also progressed to take their place in the final eight of the Championship bracket.
BLITZBOKS FLATTEN CHILE
Top seeds South Africa came into the men’s RWC Sevens with high hopes of taking the title on home turf after a season where they won six World Series events and enjoyed a 36-match winning streak.
They narrowly finished as runners-up in the Series, but the early signs suggest they could go one better this weekend after a superb 32-5 win over Chile.
Angelo Davids put the Blitzboks in front after 26 seconds, chasing a kick and scooping the bobbling ball up with his left hand to cross the try line.
The hosts’ kicking game continued to cause problems as Sakoyisa Makata and Christie Grobbelaar gathered cross-field kicks to score, but Joaquin Huici’s try late in the first half gave the South Americans a glimpse of hope.
It didn’t last long, as Ronald Brown picked up a loose ball and scampered clear to restore South Africa’s cushion early in the second half, before Mfundo Ndhlovu left a defender in his wake to cross and Davids notched his second in the corner.
Australia have been in terrific form this year and that continued with a thumping 35-0 victory over Uruguay that will bolster belief going into the business end of the tournament.
Two of their World Series-winning stars, Henry Paterson and Maurice Longbottom, bagged braces as the South Americans were dispatched by an Aussie team brimming with confidence.
There may have been a few nerves in the Fiji camp when Morgan Williams burst over the line to give Wales a shock lead in their Round of 16 clash.
But if so, they soon vanished as the Flying Fijians turned on the style in a 29-5 victory.
Kaminieli Rasaku fended off a defender to burst over in an instant response before Joseva Talacolo rode a tackle to go clear and put Fiji ahead.
A yellow card late in the first half threatened to make the Pacific Islanders’ lives difficult, but instead they managed to extend their advantage through Viwa Naduvalo.
The highlight of the match was a stunning score from Sevuloni Mocenacagi, who ran the length and couldn’t be caught in full flight, while Elia Canakaivata also crossed to become their fifth try scorer.
ALL BLACKS MAKE STRONG START
New Zealand got their bid for a fourth World Cup victory off to a perfect start as they put Scotland to the sword, running in seven tries in a 43-5 win.
Amanaki Nicole powered over the line twice, either side of a Ngarohi McGarvey-Black score, before Akuila Rokolisoa strode through a hole in midfield to complete a dominant first half performance.
Lee Jones pulled one back after the restart for the Scots with a well-taken finish on the stretch, but Rokolisoa soon restored the All Blacks’ comfortable lead with a weaving run before adding the extras to take his personal points tally to 16.
Substitutes Lewis Ormond and Caleb Tangitau also got in on the try-scoring action late on as the back-to-back defending champions laid down an imposing marker.
Olympic bronze medallists Argentina, who came into the World Cup Sevens as fourth seeds, booked their place in the quarter-finals by beating Kenya 22-7.
The Pumas took advantage of an early yellow card for their opponents by running in three tries before half time, but the Cape Town Stadium crowd roared when Vincent Onyala pulled one back for the Kenyans.
However, a second yellow card, this time for a high tackle, ended hopes of a comeback as Alejo Lavayen bagged Argentina’s fourth try to make it a comfortable victory.
BIG GUNS FIRE IN WOMEN’S EVENT
Top seed faced bottom seed in the opening game of the women’s tournament as World Series champions Australia ran out 48-0 winners against debutants Madagascar.
The Aussie 7s wasted no time in racking up a comfortable lead, largely thanks to the scintillating form of Faith Nathan, who became the first Australian woman to score five tries in a RWC Sevens match.
Maddison Levi also made an impact as the 20-year-old bagged a try of her own before breaking Madagascan hearts with a superb try-saving tackle to deny the Africans a memorable score.
New Zealand made a storming start to their campaign in a David v Goliath clash with tournament debutants Colombia, beating the South Americans 47-5 and scoring seven tries in the process.
The first to cross, inevitably, was the RWC Sevens’ all-time top try scorer Portia Woodman, who notched her 19th try at this level inside three minutes.
The Black Ferns stretched their lead to 26-0 by half time, Risi Pouri-Lane crossing twice, but there were huge Colombian celebrations when Laura Mejia dotted down their first-ever World Cup try early in the second half.
They were ultimately outclassed, though, as Kelly Brazier also bagged a brace in a clinical performance from the second seeds.
France managed to block out the wall of noise from the stands and put in an impressive performance to knock out hosts South Africa with a 29-0 victory.
Lou Noel’s try inside the opening minute settled any early nerves, and the French soon stretched their advantage, turning defence into attack to send Camille Grassineau through, before Chloe Pelle added a third score in the final play of the first half.
Pelle notched her second of the game after the break, before the ever-impressive Seraphine Okemba completed a resounding victory with her first try of the weekend.
The USA got their bid for glory off to a perfect start as a Jaz Gray hat-trick lit up a resounding 39-7 win over Poland.
The speedster was in unstoppable form, crossing the whitewash twice in the first three minutes before completing her treble early in the second half, while Kris Thomas bagged two late on in a seven-try rout over the Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens champions.
STUNNING SAMOA THRASH EAGLES
Elsewhere in the men’s event, Samoa underlined their dark horse status with a huge win over sixth seeds USA, as an inspired second half performance saw them rack up a huge 40-12 win.
The match was a hard-fought contest for the first 10 minutes, as Paul Scanlan and Melani Matavao crossed either side of David Still’s try to give the Islanders a lead at the break, before Steve Tomasin’s score reduced the deficit to just two points with four minutes to go.
But the Samoans soon pulled away, turning on the style and swagger to blow away their opponents with four tries in five minutes, including a second for Scanlan and a perfectly executed chip and chase from Vaa Apelu Maliko.
Fresh from a best-ever fifth-place World Series finish, Ireland continued their fine form with a professional and clinical 17-5 win over England.
The Irish dominated possession in the first half, making 44 passes to England’s six, and took the lead through Harry McNulty.
Mark Roche showed great footwork and strength to barrel over in the corner before Jordan Conroy added a third try, and things were made worse for England when Alex Davies went down injured before Charlton Kerr notched a late consolation score.
France progressed to the quarter-finals with a 19-12 win over Canada in a close contest between the seventh and tenth seeds.
Jean Pascal Barraque responded to Phil Berna’s score as they went in level at the break, but French flier Nelson Eppe took matters in his own hands in the second half, pouncing on a loose ball to sprint over the line before grabbing his second try of the game three minutes later.
Brock Webster streaked clear for Canada to reduce the deficit with two minutes left, but it was too little too late.
FIJIANA MAKE A STATEMENT
Fiji’s women made an early statement of intent by thrashing Japan 36-7 to underline their status as title contenders and earn their first ever opening match win at a RWC 7s.
Fijiana, who finished third in the 2021/22 World Series, stormed past the 11th seeds as Ana Maria Naimasi scored two of their four tries before half time, then adding and converting another early in the second half to complete a hat-trick.
A sixth try was recorded by Raijieli Daveua, before Japan earned a late consolation score through Yume Hirano.
England got off to a strong start with a 29-5 victory against a Spain side that was expected to put up a much stronger fight against the team seeded one place above them.
Celia Quansah offered a sign of things to come by crossing the try line in the opening minute, before Emma Uren, Ellie Boatman, Grace Crompton and Amy Wilson Hardy also touched down in an eye-catching performance.
Ireland raced into an early 14-0 lead against Brazil, but a spirited comeback from the Brazilians reduced the deficit to just two points by half time.
However, Beibhinn Parsons scored a superb individual try from the kick-off to give the Irish some breathing space, before try machine Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe wrapped up a 24-12 victory with her second try of the game to book a quarter-final spot.
Canada’s young squad faced a China side looking for their first-ever win in an opening match at a World Cup, and the underdogs got off to a strong start when Hong Ting Ruan burst down the left wing to touch down in the corner.
The Canadians responded strongly, though, scoring two tries in either half to take a comfortable 24-5 win.
CHILE EDGE THRILLER
The men’s teams ranked 9-24 had to battle through a Pre-Round of 16 to kick off proceedings on day one, the winners progressing to face the top eight seeds and the losers dropping into the Bowl competition.
Ireland star Terry Kennedy, who was top try scorer in the World Series this season, didn’t need long to make his mark on the biggest stage.
He scored the first try of the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 inside two minutes in a 24-0 win over Portugal, kicking through a gap in the Portuguese defence before chasing the bobbling ball to dot down.
Canada (31-7) and Samoa (33-7) racked up big wins over Zimbabwe and Uganda respectively, although both had to come back after conceding early scores. Samoa’s Steve Onosai got off to a hot start with a hat-trick.
Jamie Farndale ran the length of the pitch in the try of the match as Scotland, who finished seventh at RWC Sevens 2018, opened with a 24-7 victory over Jamaica.
Kenya defeated Tonga 19-0, Wales saw off South Korea 35-10 and Uruguay beat Hong Kong 19-7, but the most dramatic match was saved for last when Germany faced Chile.
Both sides impressed as invitational teams on the World Series in 2021/22, but it was the Chileans who edged it in extra-time when Vicente Tredinick slotted a drop-goal penalty in front of the posts.
DAY TWO SCHEDULE
Day two begins at 08:15 local time (GMT+2) with the first of the men’s Bowl quarter-finals between Portugal and Germany.
The women’s Challenge quarter-finals begin at 09:53 when Madagascar meet Spain.
That will be followed by Colombia v Brazil (10:15), South Africa v Japan (10:37) and Poland v China (10:59).
England face Chile in the first of the men’s Challenge quarters at 11:31, followed by Canada v Uruguay (11:53), USA v Wales (12:15) and Scotland v Kenya (12:37).
Men’s bowl placement matches will take place before the semi-finals at 14:01 and 14:23.
More placement matches will precede the Challenge semi-finals at 15:49 and 16:11 (women’s) and 17:37 and 17:59 (men’s).
It will then be time for the headline action, as the Championship quarter-finals get underway.
In the women’s tournament, Australia face England at 19:07 followed by New Zealand v Ireland (20:05), France v Fiji (21:05) and USA v Canada (22:05).
For the men, New Zealand v Argentina is first up at 19:35, followed by France v Australia (20:35), Samoa v Fiji (21:35) and Ireland v South Africa (22:33).