Australia and France were in ominous form on a mixed opening day for series champions New Zealand at the Emirates Dubai 7s, the first event of the HSBC SVNS 2024 season.
In a revamped format, Brazil took advantage of the new losing bonus-point system to qualify for the quarter-finals as one of the two best third-placed teams.
POOL A: FERNS MADE TO FIGHT
In a tricky pool, defending series champions New Zealand were given an almighty scare in their opening match against South Africa, who returned as a core team for the first time since 2014-15.
The Black Ferns Sevens, missing World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year 2023 Tyla Nathan-Wong, needed a last-minute try from Sarah Hirini before prevailing 19-14. South Africa had taken the lead thanks to an outrageous fingers-tips pass and off-the-floor offload from Zintle Mpupha.
They proved the performance was no fluke by pushing Fiji close in their next game before going down 21-17, but defeat to Great Britain meant the Springbok Women's Sevens missed out on the quarter-finals.
With both teams already through, the Black Ferns Sevens then topped the pool with an entertaining 29-21 victory over Fiji. Earlier, a comfortable win against Great Britain was marred by a serious-looking injury to New Zealand captain Hirini.
“She’s in our thoughts,” team-mate Stacey Waaka said. “We have her back until the death.”
POOL B: LEVI STARS FOR AUSTRALIA
The leading try scorer in the 2023 sevens series with 57, Maddison Levi picked up where she left off last season to score twice in the first three minutes of Australia’s 39-0 victory against Brazil as they began the defence of their Dubai title in style.
Levi, whose sister Teagan is also in the squad, then scored a hat-trick as Australia beat Japan 66-0. Ireland were also comfortable winners against Japan, then snuck past Brazil to set up a pool decider.
But Australia – with Maddison Levi adding two more tries – were just too strong, winning 33-5. Charlotte Caslick said of team-mate Levi. “We have to defend her all the time in training and it’s no easy task, that for sure. She’s fast but also so strong and powerful, so if she doesn’t go round you, she goes through you.”
Brazil’s victory over Japan and losing bonus point against Ireland were enough to earn them a quarter-final place.
POOL C: LES BLEUES CRUISE
For the first time in the SVNS, a game went to sudden death as Canada (ninth) defied last season’s final standings to beat USA (third) and blow the pool wide open behind France. Carissa’s Norsten’s golden-point try in overtime sparked jubilant celebrations by a team who beat their North American rivals just once in six series games last season.
With fourth-ranked team France winning both their opening games comfortably, USA needed victory to leapfrog Les Bleues at the top of the pool.
But the Women's Eagles Sevens gifted Lily Dezou two first-half tries and conceded four more, including an outrageous solo effort from 15s star Joanna Grisez, as France romped home 38-5.
“We are very happy,” France’s Caroline Drouin said. “It was a great day, three wins. It wasn’t an easy group but we’ve got to do better tomorrow. We’re very excited about the Olympics in Paris. We’ll do as much preparation as we can to do well at home.”
Kris Thomas’ consolation effort wasn’t enough to earn USA a bonus point but they did enough to qualify for the quarter-finals as one of the two best third-place teams.
France-Fiji looks like the pick of Sunday’s quarter-finals, while Brazil play David to New Zealand’s Goliath. Ireland-Canada and USA against Australia complete the line-up.