Seven of last season’s top eight qualified for the men’s quarter-finals after day one of the Emirates Dubai 7s, the first event of a revamped HSBC SVNS 2024.
Only France, who are expected to be joined by 15s superstar Antoine Dupont later in the series, missed out, while USA were one of three teams to benefit from the introduction of losing bonus points.
POOL A: BLITZBOKS ON TOP
In a pool expected to be competitive, a slow start nearly cost 2023 series champions New Zealand. Canada, chasing their first series win against the All Blacks Sevens in six years, took a shock 21-12 lead, but were hampered by injuries to three players, eventually going down 26-21.
Seventh-ranked South Africa, boosted by the return of veteran winger Rosko Specman from 15s, capitalised on Samoa errors and a yellow card to win their opener 22-14.
That left Samoa needing to take something from New Zealand in their next group game, and they nearly took all three points thanks to Malakesi Masefau’s try from quick tap to put them 12-7 ahead at half-time. But Brady Rush’s last-gasp solo effort made it two wins from two for the All Blacks Sevens and left Samoa in a straight shootout with Canada for the final quarter-final berth.
Canada had their chances but repeatedly spilled the ball in promising positions, while Samoa were clinical, winning 24-0 with a pair of tries apiece from Masefau and BJ Lima.
In the pool decider, South Africa roared back to beat New Zealand 21-19, Ronald Brown and Masande Mtshali scoring late tries to secure victory.
POOL B: AUSTRALIA SCRAPE THROUGH
Ireland shocked Australia 19-12 in the opening round of men’s games. Two tries before half-time, the first through the pace and footwork of World Rugby Men's Sevens Player of the Year 2022, Terry Kennedy gave Ireland a half-time lead they never surrendered against the 2022 series champions.
After a hat-trick from that man Kennedy eased Ireland past Spain, four tries from Argentina in as many first-half minutes against Australia left the reigning Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens champions on the brink of a pool-stage exit.
But a 25-7 victory against Spain put Australia through as one of the two best third-placed teams, leaving Nick Malouf, for one, relieved.
“Doing what we’d spoken about for the first time today was the most pleasing thing,” the Australia captain said. “Tomorrow’s a whole new day so we’ll put our best foot forward.”
With both teams having already qualified, Argentina topped the pool after beating Ireland 17-7.
POOL C: USA BOUNCE BACK TO REACH LAST EIGHT
Fiji, without a series tournament win since Toulouse in May 2022, were run close by USA before captain Joseva Talacolo (pictured) reached over to score in the closing seconds.
The double Olympic champions then faced France in one of the pool phase’s heavyweight clashes. Les Bleus struck first but a trio of quickfire tries from the Flying Fijians showcased all their attributes – fearsome fends, fabulous footwork and outrageous offloading – and they never looked back. They eventually ran out 40-5 winners with Terio Tamani dropping four conversions to go with his hat-trick of tries.
It was USA who reacted better to defeat, beating France 26-14 to top the pool and join Fiji – who lost to Great Britain in the final game of the day – in the last eight.
“I’m pleased,” Men's Eagles Sevens head coach Mike Friday said. “We left four of our senior players at home in pre-season but the young men embraced the opportunity. We controlled the ball against a very physical team.”
USA’s reward for topping Pool C is a quarter-final showdown with New Zealand on Sunday. South Africa play Australia, Ireland take on Fiji and Samoa-Argentina completes the line-up.