World Rugby Women's Sevens quarter-finals decided in Dubai

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It was business as usual on day one of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 in Dubai as the top three sides from 2016-17 went unbeaten in a thrilling day of rugby.

Series champions New Zealand achieved a perfect three-from-three record to set up a Cup quarter-final meeting with USA, while Australia’s three pool wins puts them head-to-head with England in the last eight.

Canada, third in the overall standings for 2016-17, will play France in their quarter-final, while Russia face Spain. The Challenge Trophy semi-finals will be Ireland v Japan and South Africa v Fiji.

As reigning Dubai champions, New Zealand will be looking to improve on their almost faultless series in 2016-17 where they lost just one of 30 matches. Black Ferns Sevens flyer and recently crowned World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Michaela Blyde is eager that the team continues as they started.

“Morale is pretty high, it’s the first world series tournament and one of our favourites so we are on a really good high and can’t wait to play on day two,” she said. “No matter what team you play or how many tries you score or how often you win sevens is always a really tough game but it’s all about tomorrow.”

As the first of five tournaments on the 2018 series, Dubai holds added significance for the teams as they move toward Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco next July. Points from the first two tournaments on the series will be added to their totals in 2016-17 to determine seedings at the prestigious event.

Pool A

Black Ferns 1

The Black Ferns Sevens were in unstoppable form on day one, putting a 40-0 win on the board against invitational side South Africa, with six different try scorers contributing.

A Portia Woodman double against France put the game out of reach as New Zealand closed out the match 28-7. Woodman also scored twice in their final pool match of the day against USA as New Zealand notched up seven tries in total to win 45-14.

It was a narrow 19-17 win against USA that kicked off France’s Dubai campaign and despite their loss against New Zealand, they managed to close out the day with a 29-5 win over South Africa, with Montserrat Amedee scoring a hat-trick.

USA finished the pool in third place and will now face New Zealand once more in the first Cup quarter-final on day two.

Pool B

Australia

Rio 2016 gold medallists Australia started their day with a straight forward 27-0 victory over Japan, with four different try-scorers going over the whitewash.

An Emma Sykes double against England was crucial to their 22-7 win, despite Deborah Fleming giving the Red Roses the early advantage straight from the kick-off.

Additional tries from Dominique du Toit and Evania Pelite secured the win and gave Tim Walsh’s side confidence heading into their final match against Russia, who they beat 31-12 thanks to a stunning Emma Tonegato hat-trick.

Before their loss to Australia, Russia had clinched a crucial three points against England, the difference being Elena Zdrokova’s try in the dying seconds.

A 36-0 win over Japan, with a hat-trick from Zdrokova, secured them second place in the pool. England finished third overall, still qualifying as a runner-up to make the quarter-finals.

Pool C

Canada

Canada topped the pool with a perfect three-from-three record. Julia Greenshields continued the blistering form she showed in the 2016-17 series, scoring a double against Spain in her side’s opener to help Canada to a 19-0 win.

John Tait’s side continued their form to beat Ireland 31-0, with five different try-scorers going over, and capped off their day with a 31-14 win over Fiji, Greenshields bagging a hat-trick in the process.

Spain, despite losing to Canada, managed to take two wins in the pool and finish second. A double from Amaia Erbina and score from Patricia Garcia helped them past Fiji 19-5, while two tries from Iera Echebarria gave them the momentum to beat Ireland 7-17.

The tournament continues on Friday and tickets are available on www.dubairugby7s.com or can be bought at the Gate. 

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Women's World Rugby Sevens champions NZ can only get better, says Bunting

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Confident of a good show: Allan Bunting

The All Blacks are seen as all-conquering, yet New Zealand’s women sevens team are arguably even more dominant than their male counterparts.

The Black Ferns come into the opening round of the 2017/18 HSBC Women’s World Rugby Sevens Series as defending champions, having won it for a fifth successive time last year. It gives Allan Bunting’s side a monopoly, with the women’s series having only made its debut in the 2012/13 season.

Their stranglehold on success elsewhere hasn’t been quite as vice-like. The Ferns lost 15-10 to Australia in the inaugural final of the Rugby World Cup Sevens women’s tournament, in Dubai in 2009, although they claimed the second title in Russia in 2013, beating Canada 29-12.

They were also beaten by old foes the Aussies in the Olympic Games final in Rio last year.

On the sevens circuit though they are peerless. Yet, despite claiming five of the six tournament wins last season and finishing 16 points ahead of fierce rivals Australia, the scary thing for New Zealand’s opponents is Bunting believes they can only get better.

“We certainly feel after our review last year that we were running at about 75 per cent of our potential, so there’s some huge amount of space for some gains and growth, so we’re focused on that,” said the man who took over the side a year ago, just a few weeks before the season opener in Dubai.

“We’re focused on doing things quicker and with a bit more intensity. There’s still a lot of growth left in our group.”

Performing the Haka: New Zealand Women's Team

Performing the Haka: New Zealand Women’s Team

Asked if he was sounding out a warning to the rest of the field, he added: “It’s not really a warning, we just feel like we can still grow a heck of a lot. The management group too. So if we get better together we know we’ll be able to reach our potential.”

Bunting, who is a man with huge respect among sevens players, was urged to apply by a few members of the national team and replace former coach Sean Horan.

Despite the upheaval, there was no backwards step, as last year’s dominant World Series campaign confirmed. As the rise of the Black Ferns continues, they have overtaken the men’s team as the standard bearers of New Zealand sevens rugby.

But with a bigger target on their backs perhaps more than ever before, Bunting says his team feel under no pressure heading into Dubai.

“We’re totally focused on what our strengths are and areas we need to work on,” said Bunting.

“Our men’s group have a new management team and they’re a bunch of guys who will get more consistent as they’ve gone full time, so they’ll get a lot out of that. And they’ve got a lot of room for growth which will come in the next year or so.

“We train close together and connect with the management groups and share ideas, so it’s a pretty good group, we’re all as one New Zealand Sevens.”

The rivalry with Australia has rocketed up a notch with both teams dominating the early era of women’s sevens rugby. And he sees last year’s runners-up as their main threat once again.

“Australia, they’re always a threat,” said Bunting.

“They’re a great side and one of the most consistent in the world so they’re definitely a threat. But every team is. We’re focused now on South Africa, France and the USA. The US beat us last year so we’re not looking past our first game. Then we go to the next one.”​

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Young Australia squad could spring a surprise at Dubai Rugby Sevens

Alex Broun 29/11/2017
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Posing for the camera: Team captains

A huge seven months of Sevens Rugby is set to kick off this weekend with the opening leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series (SWS) in Dubai.

The Dubai 7s is followed by World Series legs in Cape Town, Sydney, Hamilton, Las Vegas, Vancouver and Hong Kong followed by a short break for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast from April 13-15.

The World Series then resumes in Singapore at the end of April before finishing with legs in Paris and London in June. Teams then have a month to prepare before the season climax – the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco in July.

Teams have been limbering up in various warm-up tournaments across the globe – the Oktoberfest 7s in Munich and the Silicon Valley 7s in San Francisco – putting out squads of varying strengths.

But in Dubai nations must finally show their hands and reveal what they believe are their strongest line-ups – at least for the start of the season.

The real surprise packets may be Australia. Coach Andy Friend has been re-building his squad over the last 18-months and it looks as if some of the players he has been bringing through are set to have breakthrough years, as shown by their trifecta of warm-up tournament triumphs.

It’s a fresh-faced team. Take out the veterans Ed Jenkins (34) and James Stannard (31) and the average age of the side is just 23 with two players, Tim Anstee and Simon Kennewell, barely 20.

In action: Australia's Tim Anstee

In action: Australia’s Tim Anstee

Even more promising for the Aussies is that the bullocking Anstee (1.93m, 93kg) and the powerhouse Kennewell (1.89m, 95kg) are developing into two of the most damaging runners on the world circuit – akin to the Ioane brothers from New Zealand.

Anstee put the Sevens world on notice when he ran in three tries in as many minutes against Scotland on Day One of the Sydney Sevens tournament in February, while Kennewell has been equally impressive scoring 17 tries in just 49 matches.

Friend is quietly confident that his chargers will do the business in Dubai.

“We’ve learned how to win, and done it in a variety of ways,” he said of their successes in Munich, Silicon Valley and the Central Coast.

“So we’ve got great confidence in our own ability and have to maintain that.”

The reigning World Series and Dubai champions, South Africa, have gone totally in the other direction naming the most experienced squad in their history, with five players having played more World Series matches than the Australian squad combined.

Springbok Sevens coach, Neil Powell, has welcomed back Blitzbokke regulars Kyle Brown, Kwagga Smith, Justin Geduld and Seabelo Senatla to his squad which includes three former World Rugby Players of the Year (Cecil Africa, Werner Kok and Senatla) and a 2017 nominee for the award, pace-man Rosko Specman.

Rosko Specman

Run for a try: Rosko Specman

New Zealand, under new coach Clark Laidlaw, are playing catch-up and go into the new season without the legendary DJ Forbes and Sherwin Stowers.

They will be heavily dependent on co-captains 31-year-old Tim Mikkelson and the perennially injured Scott Curry.

The All Blacks Sevens have now set up their permanent home in Tauranga but looking at their squad it is light on the quality of previous line-ups and they may take a while to gel.

The last time crowd favourites England won the Dubai 7s was 2011 but the 2016-17 Series runners-up will again be competitive this year with plenty of stars in Simon Amor’s squad including captain Tom Mitchell, flyer Dan Norton and the hardworking James Rodwell. But they will greatly miss injured danger-man Dan Bibby.

Last season saw five different tournament winners – South Africa (5), England (2) and Fiji, Scotland and Canada one each.

Key man: Tim Mikkelson

Key man: Tim Mikkelson

London winners Scotland are taking great strides in both the 15-man and Sevens game but it’s hard to see them going all the way in Dubai and last season’s other surprise packet, Canada, will be quarter-finalists at best.

Which just leaves the Olympic gold medallists, the Flying Fijians. They have not been the same since Ben Ryan departed and stories of them relying on the charity of local club Jebel Ali Dragons to prepare for the tournament do not instill great faith.

They are captained by 2017 Sevens Player of the Year nominee Jerry Tuwai, one of the best players in the Series, but he is just one of a squad of 12 who will do well to repeat their final appearance of last year.

It all adds up to a tantalising, and no-doubt unpredictable, start to this year’s Series but don’t be surprised if it’s the young Australians standing on the steps of The Sevens come late Saturday night.

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