Fans were treated to a spectacular opening day of rugby sevens action as the popular, fast-paced sport kicked off its Commonwealth Games competition in record-breaking fashion at Coventry Stadium on Friday.
With many of the world’s top teams and best players on show, the speed, skill and end-to-end drama of rugby sevens delivered as the top seeds showed their class to claim victories on day one in front of a crowd which included HRH The Princess Royal and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.
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In the women’s competition, which contains eight teams in two pools of four teams, New Zealand are aiming to retain the title they won four years ago but the Olympic champions will have to overcome Australia, who claimed the World Series title earlier this year and an impressive Fiji, who were Olympic bronze medallists in Tokyo last year.
On day one of the women’s competition in Coventry, Australia and Fiji secured their places in Saturday’s semi-finals, by overcoming Scotland and South Africa to ensure their safe passage from Pool B.
In Pool A reigning Olympic and Commonwealth champions New Zealand began their campaign in fine form with a 45-7 win against Canada, before a record-breaking 60-0 triumph over Sri Lanka which included a sensational six tries for Michaela Blyde.
New Zealand will take on England in a crucial third and final pool match at 10:06 BST on Saturday. The hosts had mixed fortunes on day one with a 57-0 win over Sri Lanka, which saw Ellie Boatman score four first-half tries, followed by a 26-19 defeat to Canada, which means they are likely to have to beat New Zealand to progress to the semi-finals.
In the men’s competition, which comprises 16 teams in four pools of four teams, double men’s Olympic champions Fiji face stiff competition from reigning Commonwealth title holders New Zealand and HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series leaders South Africa among other potential medallists.
South Africa and Scotland ensured their progress to Saturday evening’s quarter-finals by overcoming Tonga and Malaysia in pool B. An impressive Scotland outfit thrashed Tonga 41-0 and Malaysia 50-12. South Africa beat Malaysia 46-0 before overcoming Tonga 36-5.
Meanwhile, New Zealand, Fiji and Kenya lead Pools A, C and D respectively with perfect win records on Friday, but will need to confirm their progress in the final pool matches on Saturday morning.
Perhaps the match of the day saw Uganda claim a pulsating 12-12 draw with Australia in Pool D as the men from Down Under were temporarily reduced to five players and Uganda narrowly missed the chance for an historic victory with the last kick of the game as a penalty attempt sailed agonisingly wide.
Earlier in the day Australia had go off to a flying start as a first-half hat-trick of tries from Samu Kerevi helped them to a 62-0 victory over Jamaica. However, Kenya’s 27-14 win over Uganda means Australia still have work to do in the final pool match against Kenya to ensure their place in the quarter-finals.
Reigning champions New Zealand showed all their resilience to fight back from 17-0 down to an impressive Samoa outfit, eventually claiming a hard fought 19-17 victory to add to their earlier win over Sri Lanka and top Pool A.
Hosts England have their work cut out after a heavy opening match defeat to Samoa by a 34-0 score line but bounced back to claim a 47-19 win over Sri Lanka, which keeps their hopes of making the quarter-finals alive.
Olympic champions Fiji, who have never won Commonwealth gold, sit on top of Pool C after beating Zambia convincingly 52-0 followed by a hard-fought win over Canada by a 19-12 score.
Zambia scored their first-ever Commonwealth Games try in a 38-5 defeat to Wales, who were earlier beaten 31-0 by Canada and will likely need to pull off a shock result against Fiji to progress to the quarter-finals.
New Zealand star Tyla Nathan-Wong was pleased with the Black Ferns Sevens opening day performances: “It was pretty good and there are a few things that we need to clear up a couple of receipts of kick-off weren’t the best and you can’t do that against the bigger teams.
We need to tidy up a few things and we’re looking forward to day two and facing England.”
The competition continues on Saturday with the final round of pool matches in the morning session from 09:00-13:30 BST. Hosts England face New Zealand in crucial final pool matches on Saturday with the women going head-to-head at 10:06 BST and the men’s teams facing each other at 11:34 BST.
England men’s player Jamie Adamson is looking ahead to taking on the All Blacks Sevens: “Sevens is funny game and tomorrow we’ll fly into New Zealand and see what comes of it. We’ve got to go in tomorrow with our heads up, with the right attitude and hopefully we’ll come out on top.”
The competition reaches its exciting knockout phase as the women’s semi-finals and men’s quarter-finals take place in the afternoon session on Saturday from 17:30-22:30 BST, while the medals will be decided on Sunday evening.
A few remaining tickets are still available, starting at just £8 for under 16s and £15 for adults. Fans should visit www.birmingham2022.com for details.