The quarter-finallists were decided on Saturday as fans filling the famous Hong Kong Stadium, and watching around the globe, were treated to a superb showcase of the speed and skill of world class rugby sevens as the pool phase concluded on day two of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Samoa were the outstanding performers of the pool phase as they recorded three straight victories over New Zealand (24-0), Australia (22-17) and hosts Hong Kong (31-15) to top a tough looking Pool A.
Australia’s entertaining 24-17 win over New Zealand in the last match of day two saw the reigning Series title holders through to the quarter-finals as pool A runners-up at the expense of the All Blacks Sevens who miss out on a place in the quarter-finals for the first time in history and will now contest the ninth to 16th placed classification matches on Sunday.
Ireland, Fiji and France also dominated their pools with perfect win records to reach the quarter-finals in fine style.
Double Olympic champions Fiji are aiming for a sixth straight title in Hong Kong and made smooth progress through their pool with free-scoring wins over Japan (59-12), Spain (35-21) and the USA (24-0).
The USA clinched second position in Pool C thanks to hard fought victories over Spain (15-14) and Japan (35-22).
Ireland proved too hot to handle for their Pool D opponents, continuing their fine form from last season by overcoming Kenya (28-12), Canada (19-17) and Argentina (21-17).
Olympic bronze medallists Argentina secured runners-up spot and a place in the quarter-finals thanks to earlier victories over Canada (36-0) and Kenya (26-7).
France were losing finalists last time Hong Kong hosted a Series event in 2019 and they showed they mean business again with a hat-trick of wins to top pool B. France began with a 34-0 thrashing of Great Britain, before overpowering Uruguay 45-5 and finishing with a thrilling 19-17 win against South Africa.
Uruguay made history with their first Series match victory since gaining promotion from the Challenger Series. The South Americans were delighted to overcome the newly formed Great Britain 19-17 in a pulsating Pool B encounter, which meant South Africa progressed to the quarter-finals as runners-up despite the defeat against France in their final pool match.
Great Britain earlier had their own first taste of success with a 12-10 victory over South Africa but it was not enough to see them progress to the quarter-finals.
A mouth watering set of quarter-finals awaits on Sunday morning as Samoa take on Argentina in the first quarter-final at 11:25 local time (GMT+8), before Olympic and World champions Fiji face Commonwealth gold medallists South Africa at 11:50.
The third quarter-final sees an impressive Ireland against reigning Series title holders Australia at 12:15, before France and the USA do battle in the fourth quarter-final at 12:40.
The semi-finals are scheduled for 15:45 and 16:10 before the bronze medal match at 18:30 precedes the final at 19:00 local time.
Ireland’s Ed Kelly said: “It’s a great wat to start off the season. We wanted to set ourselves up well and top the pool so we’re happy to have achieved that. The games are going to get tougher and tougher from here but we’re excited for it. We ground out two good wins today but we could have performed even better so tomorrow morning we’re really looking forward to attacking the day.”
As the first of 11 tournaments, Hong Kong is not only the launchpad for the men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023, but also Olympic qualification, with the top four teams at the end of the season securing their tickets to the Paris 2024 Games.
The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 promises to be the most competitive and exciting Series to date with more at stake than ever before as the top four ranked men’s and women’s teams will earn Olympic qualification for Paris 2024.
At the other end of the table in the men’s competition the number of teams for the 2024 Series will reduce from 16 to 12 to equal the number of women’s teams and align with the Olympic competition structure, meaning fans can expect an intense battle to avoid relegation throughout the 2023 Series with every match and every point counting towards the final Series rankings.