The large and exuberant crowd inside The Sevens Stadium in Dubai were treated to an action packed day of thrilling and unpredictable rugby sevens as the second round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022 began with shocks and records.
Shock defeats to France and Spain meant that for only the second time in Series history in Dubai – 2019 was the other occasion – double Olympic men’s champions Fiji failed to make it through to a Cup quarter-final.
Having lost to France for only the second time in Series history, the Pacific Islanders were then on the wrong side of another upset as Spain scored an historic victory. Los Leones had never beaten Fiji at this level before but were worthy 33-19 winners thanks to braces from Manu Moreno and the rangy Tobias Sainz-Trapaga.
Typical of a proud rugby nation, a youthful Fiji which includes 10 players in the 13-man squad who made their Series debut only last week, managed to galvanise themselves and show their true colours with a win against Argentina to finish the day on a high.
Although Argentina were beaten by Fiji in their final game they were already assured of top spot in Pool C by then, and ultimately a quarter-final tie against Great Britain. France’s reward for finishing as pool runners-up is a last-eight date with USA, who finished second in Pool B behind peerless Australia.
Reigning Dubai champions South Africa were the only other men’s team to beat everyone in front of them as they extended their record World Series-winning run to 21 matches. Kenya, their opponents in the Vancouver final of the 2021 World Series, stand in the way of the Blitzboks and a place in the semi-finals.
If they go all the way, South Africa would be the first team in almost two decades to win a hat-trick of titles in Dubai.
“The thing with us being at the top, everyone wants to come at us but as a system, we stuck together and pulled it through,” said South Africa’s JC Pretorius. “We love Dubai, it has the same weather as South Africa.”
While South Africa are still on course to defend the men’s title, Australia’s women are also showing no signs of any let-up, after building on last week’s title win – their first in three years – with a clean sweep of victories.
Australia are the only team competing at the women’s event to have won a Cup final in Dubai, with four titles from six finals played, and following last weekend’s victory in the opening round of the Series, confidence will be riding high that they can add to that list with another gold medal after another dominant day in the desert.
In the women’s event the 10 teams are divided into two pools of five teams with each team playing each other in the pool. The pool placings will decide the classification matches, with no quarter or semi-finals, meaning the teams who top their respective pools will contest the gold medal final.
Olympic medallists Fiji and France, as well as the impressive Russia also take unbeaten records into day two when the pool stages will be played to a finish before the competition enters the knockout phase.
There have been only two teams to win the Cup title in Dubai without topping their pool, a feat Great Britain, Ireland, USA, Kenya and France will be looking to achieve when play resumes in Dubai on Saturday. New Zealand won the Cup final in 2002 despite finishing second in their pool behind Samoa, while England repeated this effort in 2010 after finishing second to Fiji.
The men’s Cup quarter-finals begin with a match between Pool B winners Australia and the best third-place side Ireland, at 09:44 local time (GMT+4). Australia may have enjoyed a perfect day on Friday but Ireland have Jordan Conroy back firing on all cylinders after sitting out round one of the Series.
Next up, at 10:06, it is the turn of Pool C winners Argentina and Pool A runners-up Great Britain to go head-to-head.
This will be followed by a meeting between the two second-place sides in Pools B and C, USA and France, at 10:28, while the Cup quarter-finals come to a conclusion around half an hour later, at 10:50, when South Africa meet eighth seeds Kenya.
The race for the semi-finals in the women’s competition begins at 09:00 local time (GMT+4) with Brazil up against Spain.
France are the first of the unbeaten sides in action, four games into day two, when they take on USA at 09:22, while Fiji make their entry a few hours later, in the must-watch encounter against France at 12:29.
Australia’s winning run will be put to the test by a buoyant Russian side in the final match of pool play at 13:13.
The women’s bronze final takes place at 18:07 with the final following on at 18:56.
The men’s Cup semi-finals are scheduled for 14:24 and 14:40. The bronze final is set for 18:29, before the tournament concludes with the showcase gold final at 19:26.