South Africa laid down a daunting marker to their HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series rivals as they stormed to an eighth Emirates Dubai 7s title in the opening event of the season.
The Blitzboks defeated 2018 Dubai runners-up USA in Saturday’s final with a crushing 42-7 victory to clinch a third consecutive Series gold medal, after taking down Australia and Argentina in the knockout stages and winning all their Pool matches.
Neil Powell’s side, crowned 2021 Series champions in September after winning in Vancouver and Edmonton, broke their record 16-match Series winning streak from 2008/09 by ending the tournament with an 18th consecutive victory.
They also racked up their biggest points haul in a Cup final, beating their previous best of 40 points against New Zealand in Las Vegas in 2013.
Australia were equally dominant in the women’s Sevens Series, winning every match to be crowned champions and win their first Series gold medal since 2018, after a 22-7 final win over Fiji.
Argentina pipped Olympic champions Fiji’s new-look squad 19-12 to clinch bronze in the men’s event, while Olympic silver medallists France claimed the women’s bronze in style with a resounding 40-0 victory over Russia.
BLITZBOKS ON ANOTHER LEVEL
After last year’s Series was condensed to just two events due to the Covid-19 pandemic, things still weren’t quite back to normal, with the event taking place behind closed doors at The Sevens Stadium until fans return for the second Dubai leg next week.
New Zealand, men’s and women’s Series winners in 2020, and Samoa were unable to participate due to Covid-19 related travel problems, while Great Britain were competing as a combined side before they revert to Scotland, Wales and England national teams after the second Dubai event.
The Blitzboks looked on another level over two days under the baking sun in the United Arab Emirates, and finished with a big victory over the USA.
Ronald Brown scored a hat-trick and converted five of South Africa’s six tries to be named HSBC Player of the Final.
He dotted down his first after just one minute before Selvyn Davids skipped through the American defence and looped a pass out to JC Pretorius for the Blitzboks’ second try.
Brown stepped inside a defender to break the USA line and go under the posts before half time, before completing his hat-trick by gathering from Pretorius to cross early in the second half.
It was an imperious performance from the top seeds and Davids got in on the action by kicking into space behind the defence, gathering the ball on the bounce and going through the sticks.
Lucas Lacamp bagged a late consolation try for Mike Friday’s side, but South Africa still weren’t done as Shaun Williams touched down their sixth try to complete a comfortable victory.
“We kept them out until the end, the very end. We asked the boys for effort and that’s what they gave,” said Brown.
Asked about the assist from his team-mate Pretorius, he said: “JC is a machine, when he’s outside of me I give him the ball, let him run it up and I’ll support him on the inside. That’s exactly what happened and that’s why we crossed the chalk.”
PUMAS BEAT FLYING FIJIANS TO BRONZE
Argentina got revenge for their Olympic semi-final defeat to Fiji by beating a new-look Fijian side 19-12 in the bronze final to take third place.
The Flying Fijians brought only two members of their Olympic gold medal-winning squad to Dubai in a squad featuring 11 debutants, but they gave a strong account of themselves and recorded their joint-best finish at this event since finishing as runners-up in 2016.
Los Pumas exploded out of the blocks as Joaquin Lamas dived over the line to give them an early lead, but Josua Vakurunabili gathered a neat offload to cross the whitewash and his 48th international try was converted to give Fiji the lead.
Argentina responded well and showed great hands to send Joaquin De La Vega under the posts with the final play of the first half to go in 12-7 up at the break.
Fiji were their own worst enemies when they tried to pass their way out of trouble on their own try line, as the ball went loose and Lamas pounced to tap down his second try of the game.
Another characteristic offload assist sent Panapasa Qeruqeru in at the corner as Fiji struck back to reduce the gap to seven points, but Argentina saw out the game to win bronze.
In the semi-finals, it was South Africa who earned Olympic revenge by beating an Argentina side that defeated them 17-7 in the Tokyo quarter-finals, but it was not a simple task as the Blitzboks faced their biggest test of the weekend.
Rodrigo Isgro finished a flowing team move to put Argentina in front, but the Blitzboks drew level with a superb try of their own when Selvyn Davids made a break before showing great composure to pick out Shilton van Wyk with a looping pass to send him in for his first South Africa try.
The top seeds pulled clear after the break when Siviwe Soyizwapi notched his 111th international try to draw level in fourth with Justin Geduld in his country’s all-time try scoring table, and Pretorius showed electric pace to step past a defender and storm over the line.
There was an upset in the other Cup semi-final when USA, who had suffered a shock defeat to Spain the day before, knocked out Fiji thanks to a spirited second half comeback.
Iowane Teba and Filipe Sauturaga tries put the Flying Fijians in total control, and they responded to a try from the speedy Carlin Isles with a Kaminieli Rasaku score early in the second half.
But Eagles coach Mike Friday’s half time team talk seemed to do the trick as his players turned on the style and flipped the game on its head thanks to tries from Lacamp and Matai Leuta, and a turnover in the final play denied any chance of a late Fijian rally.
USA SPRING A QUARTER-FINAL SURPRISE
The men’s Cup quarter-finals got off to a flyer when Argentina required a try in golden-point extra time from 20-year-old debutant Tomas Lizazu to get past Ireland.
Los Pumas raced into a 12-0 lead in the first half through German Schulz and Felipe Del Mestre scores, but Irish playmaker Terry Kennedy took his Dubai try tally to six by scoring either side of the break to level the scores and take the game into extra time, where Lizazu’s lung-busting sprint to the corner sealed a 17-12 victory.
South Africa made short work of third seeds Australia with a 29-5 victory. Soyizwapi scored two of the Blitzboks’ five tries to seal a record-equaling 16th straight Series win, and a first international score for debutant Tiaan Pretorius sparked joyful celebrations.
Fourth seeds Great Britain, runners-up in Edmonton in September, fell to a 35-17 against an impressive USA side.
The Americans fell behind early in the second half but responded superbly as Baker and Isles crossed before Kevon Williams capped a fine performance with his second try of the match at the death.
Fiji and Kenya faced off in a Cup quarter-final for the first time since Sydney 2016 and the Fijians responded well after falling behind early, scoring three tries to clinch a 19-5 victory.
The highlight was an outstanding score from Filipe Sauturaga, who scooped up a loose ball in front of his own posts and ran the length of the pitch, skipping past two defenders along the way.
Australia finished on a high with a 35-21 over Great Britain in the fifth-place playoff, while Ireland clinched seventh by beating Kenya 29-7, helped by a hat-trick from the in-form Kennedy that took his Dubai tally to nine tries.
France pipped Spain to ninth in a thrilling game, fighting back from 21-7 down at half time to win 28-26 through a late Nelson Epee try, while Canada rounded off a disappointing tournament with a 22-14 victory over Japan in the 11th place play-off.
AUSTRALIA DOMINATE THE FIELD
Top seeds Australia brought a new-look young side to Dubai, but any lack of familiarity didn’t show as they put Fiji to the sword in the women’s final to complete a hugely impressive campaign.
The only side of the 10 competing women’s teams to have previously won the Dubai title, most recently in 2017, the Australians scored 163 points and conceded 39 in their five matches.
Any chance of an upset from sixth seeds Fiji in the final soon looked unlikely, as Demi Hayes needed just three minutes to skip past a defender surge downfield to put Australia in front.
Lily Dick gathered a clever cross-field kick and charged over in the corner, and John Manenti’s side went in at the break with a 17-0 lead after Charlotte Caslick finished off another flowing team move for their third try.
Hayes got her second try of the final by dotting down from the back of a ruck early in the second half, but Fiji’s efforts were rewarded with a consolation try from Alowesi Nakoci late on as Australia got back on track in style following their fifth-place finish at the Olympics.
“We’ve been working really hard since Tokyo, we were really disappointed with our results there,” said HSBC Player of the Final Charlotte Caslick.
“We took a lot away from that and I think it’s starting to show, we’re really clicking out there on the field and we love playing in Dubai, we always do really well here. Hopefully it’s a good omen for the rest of the season.”
France, who won silver in Tokyo, struggled at times during the Pool stage but were back to their best in time for the bronze final as they stormed to a thumping 40-0 win over fifth seeds Russia.
Seraphine Okemba almost instantly burst through the Russian defence to surge over the line for Les Bleus’ first try, before Anne-Cecile Ciofani crossed twice before half time.
Chloe Pelle stepped off the bench to bag a brace of her own either side of a show-and-go effort from Valenthine Lothoz, as France comfortably bagged their first-ever Dubai bronze medal.
BRAZIL REACH NEW HEIGHTS
Australia began the day by continuing their perfect start in Pool A with a 38-5 win over Brazil, but the Brazilians responded with a historic 12-10 victory over the USA, who had earlier beaten Spain 17-12.
It was Brazil’s first-ever win over the States and capped an excellent Pool stage performance after they defeated Spain and narrowly lost to France on day one.
Third seeds France completed a disappointing Pool B outing with their best performance yet as they ran Australia close in a 24-22 defeat, which proved enough to earn them second place but only on points difference ahead of Brazil in third and USA in fourth.
Fiji put in a superb display in their final Pool B match to snatch top spot off Great Britain with a 28-5 victory.
The British side were in pole position to reach the women’s Cup final after beating Canada 24-7 to make it three wins from three, but their heavy defeat to the Fijians saw them drop to third behind Russia, who defeated Ireland 14-5 and Canada 17-10 to reach the bronze medal match.
Fiji, Russia and Great Britain finished level on 10 points after each winning three games in a competitive Pool, but they finished in that order on points difference.
A last-gasp Grace Compton try denied Brazil fifth place in a 22-21 play-off win for Great Britain, while USA beat Canada 17-7 to take seventh and Ireland defeated Spain 31-14 in the ninth place play-off.
The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series returns next weekend, again at The Sevens in Dubai, for the second event of the season.