Day one of the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens men’s tournament followed the formbook with the leading teams winning their opening game.
Results went largely as expected on a rainy day in Hong Kong with victories for New Zealand, Australia (defending HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions), Fiji, Argentina and France among others.
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POOL A: FIJI UNSTOPPABLE IN HONG KONG
Hong Kong kings Fiji had a real fight on their hands to battle past Samoa but came through 12-7, to make it 15 wins in a row against their Pacific rivals.
The eight-time Cup winners in Hong Kong have now remarkably lost only one of their past 38 matches dating back to 2014 – the Cup final to Australia last November.
Argentina also started very strongly against Canada with two tries in the first three minutes by Marcos Moneta and Agustin Fraga helping them to get off to a winning start.
POOL B: LOS TEROS COULDN’T REPEAT THE FEAT
Great Britain turned the tables on Uruguay who had beaten them earlier in the Series with an equally tense victory, 14-10. All of their points came before the break and they were forced to hang on.
A brace of tries from Jordan Sepho and a nice try from Jonathan Laugel put France in command against Hong Kong China, but the host team delighted their fans with an exceptional brace from Seb Brien at the very end of the match setting up a grandstand finish.
POOL C: SPAIN OVERCOMES USA
It was expected to be a very tight game between Spain and the USA, especially after their 19-19 draw in Vancouver, and that proved to be the case with Los Leones enjoying a rare victory against the Eagles, 7-0. A try from Pol Pla earned them their first win in 13 games since Hamilton (11 losses and one draw).
At half-time in the following match, Australia had surged into a 26-0 lead against Japan with Matthew Gonzalez scoring twice between Maurice Longbottom and Dietrich Roache. Nick Malouf, a key figure in Australia’s 2022 World Series triumph, returned from injury and came on for his 50th World Series tournament. But Japan defied fatigue to prevent the Australians from scoring again, with Koki Yakushiji crossing the field to score a consolation try at the buzzer in a 26-5 defeat.
POOL D: SOUTH AFRICA BACK ON TRACK
Akuila Rokolisoa’s brace in the opening match of the day helped New Zealand to a 29-5 victory over Kenya. The scoreline brings the total of points between the two nations this season to 132-10 in favour of the All Blacks Sevens.
South Africa, on the other hand, had a much harder time winning against Ireland. It all came down to the last minute with the score locked at 7-7. Zain Davids was able to score after a run along the touchline that left the Irish defence trailing in his wake. Despite the extra three minutes, Ireland could not come back in a game they really should not have lost.
The second day of the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens will see the end of the men’s pool matches with two games for each team.
In Pool A, Fiji will have a tough task against Canada, against whom they have trailed at the break in the last two games, and then against title-chasing Argentina.
Argentina will also face Samoa in a pool match for the first time since Sydney in 2020. Samoa, who finished fourth in Hong Kong in November, will be looking to stop their slide down the standings since their Cup title success in Cape Town in December.
In Pool B, France will be hoping to at least repeat their early season success of winning the bronze medal in Hong Kong by maintaining their unbeaten record against Uruguay and Great Britain. Great Britain are on an upward curve after picking up 32 points from the last three tournaments.
Australia continue to climb the standings after returning to the podium in Vancouver. Their Pool C match against the USA will be crucial as Australia have yet to beat them in three matches this season. USA remain stuck in the middle of the standings and the loss to Spain should motivate them to bounce back. But the stakes will also be high at the bottom of the standings where Japan, who have won only five games this season, are staring relegation in the face.
In Pool D, New Zealand will open the day against South Africa – only the fourth time the two teams have met in a pool match in their 14 encounters since 2019 – and then close out their pool campaign against Ireland.
South Africa will be looking to bounce back after dropping from third to seventh place in the overall standing following their disappointing 13th-place finish in Vancouver.