Source: Mike Lee, KLC Fotos

Spain, China and Fiji reach Cup quarter-finals in Japan

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New Zealand were the only unbeaten team on a day of upsets at the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens on Saturday with Spain and Fiji joining them in the Cup quarter-finals as pool winners.

The Black Ferns Sevens will now face first-time Cup quarter-finalists China in the opening match on Sunday at 10:30 local time (GMT+9) after the Chinese marked their return to the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series for the first time since 2014-15 with a 24-12 win over Ireland to finish as the best third-placed team across the three pools.

Spain became the first team to beat Olympic champions Australia in the 2018 series, ending their run of 14 consecutive victories after an impressive fight-back was completed by Maria Ribera’s last-gasp try for a 17-14 win in the Pool A decider.

That loss means that Australia will face Fiji in a mouth-watering Cup quarter-final after the Pacific Islanders recovered from an opening defeat to Canada to beat both Russia and England to top Pool A and reach the quarter-finals for the first time this season.

Russia and England still advanced to the quarter-finals – where they will face France and Spain respectively – but Canada miss out for the first time in series history and will instead play Ireland in the Challenge Trophy.

They will be joined in that competition by neighbours USA, who were set to advance to the quarter-finals as one of the best third-placed teams until they conceded a third try against Japan at the death, a score that meant England were instead guaranteed a top-eight finish. USA will now face Japan again in the other Challenge Trophy semi-final.

Pool A 

In a repeat of last year’s Challenge Trophy final, Ireland ran out 17-14 winners over Spain in a tight match. Ireland led 12-0 only for Spain to hit back through converted tries for Marina Bravo and Maria Casado, but there was to be one final twist with Stacey Flood scoring to snatch victory for the Irish. Australia then made it 13 wins in a row on the 2018 series – their longest run – with a 33-5 defeat of invitational team China, who are making their first appearance since the 2014-15 series this weekend. China did score only their second-ever try against Australia through captain Yan Meiling, but tries from Emma Tonegato, Dom du Toit and debutant Yasmin Meakes ensured a winning start for the Olympic champions.

China nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback in their second match against Spain, recovering from 19-0 down with tries from Yan, Wang Wanyu and Chen Keyi to cut the deficit to two points. Unfortunately for them, Chen pulled a seemingly straightforward conversion to the left of the post and Spain were able to get possession and boot the ball into touch to escape with the win. Australia made no such mistake in their second match, Emilee Cherry scoring a brace as the series leaders passed through the 4,000-point marker in their 31-0 defeat of Ireland.

The Chinese, who will join the series as a core team next season, were finally rewarded for their endeavours with a 24-12 victory over Ireland in their final pool match with Chen scoring two of their four tries and they can now look forward to a first appearance in the Cup quarter-finals. Australia looked set to progress as Pool A winners after moving into a 14-0 lead against Spain with tries from Demi Hayes and Meakes, but Las Leonas had other ideas and two tries from Elisabet Martinez cut the deficit to two points before the pressure finally told and Ribera scored to give her side their first win over Australia since 2013 in Amsterdam.

Pool B

Portia Woodman (Photo: Mike Lee KLC Fotos)

The Pool B opener brought the first surprise of the tournament, not necessarily in the result but the margin of victory with France dominant throughout in beating USA 36-0. Jade Le Pesq, on her return to the sevens fold after winning the Six Nations Grand Slam, scored two of their six tries in an impressive display. Newly-crowned Commonwealth Games gold medallists New Zealand produced a clinical display in their opening match against hosts Japan, Portia Woodman and Michaela Blyde both crossing for doubles in a 38-5 victory. The biggest cheer of the match, though, was reserved for Raichielmiyo Bativakalolo when she finished off a Japanese break to score a second-half try.

France followed up their record win over the USA with another strong display against Japan, Camille Grassineau and Anne Cecile Ciofani among their five try scorers in a 33-5 defeat of Japan. The Sakura Sevens kept battling to the end, cheered on by the home crowd, and were rewarded when 18-year-old Yume Hirano grabbed a late consolation try. USA’s loss to France made their encounter with New Zealand a must-win match and they started brightly with Jordan Gray’s opening try, but Woodman, Niall Williams, Blyde, Gayle Broughton and Shakira Baker ensured the Black Ferns Sevens emerged the 31-12 victors.

USA knew that, after two defeats, they needed to score as many points as possible against hosts Japan if they were to reach the quarter-finals and everything seemed to be going to plan after a Naya Tapper hat-trick and double from Alev Kelter put them 45-7 in front. However, they switched off and Japan scored two late tries through Mifuyu Koide and Bativakalolo which meant that USA finished with a points difference of -27 to England’s -24 and found themselves consigned to the Challenge Trophy instead. Woodman then scored a first-half hat-trick – taking her tally to six in Kitakyushu and 28 for the series – as New Zealand ran out comfortable 38-7 winners over a French team that were a completely different opponent than in their earlier matches.

Pool C

Russia and England had the honour of opening the tournament and, roared on by groups of excited school children in the Mikuni World Stadium, it was the Russians who snatched a 17-10 victory after late tries from Baizat Khamidova, the DHL Impact Player in Sydney, and Elena Zdrokova denied the Commonwealth Games bronze medallists. Canada, who lost their inspirational captain Ghislaine Landry to injury on Friday, then proved too strong for a Fijian side who received three yellow cards in their opener, running out 38-14 winners in a match that saw Hannah Darling score their 600th try in series history.

Fiji have finished no higher than 10th this season, but they turned the form book on its head to beat Russia 29-5 with captain Ana Maria Roqica scoring either side of half-time to turn the match in her side’s favour as Fijiana showed some of the touches that had taken them to the bronze medal match in Kitakyushu last year. England then ensured that all four teams would go into the final round of matches with one victory apiece by beating Canada 21-19, albeit only after Natasha Hunt curled the conversion between the posts after Emily Scott’s try had tied the scores with time up on the clock.

With quarter-final places at stake it was Fiji who came out firing in the penultimate pool match, scoring three first-half tries through Tima Ravisa, Viniana Riwai and Naimasi to lead a stunned England 19-0. The Red Roses responded with a try from Jess Breach after the break, but it was quickly cancelled out by second tries for Ravisa and Naimasi as Fiji, cheered on by supporters from the Oita prefecture that hosted them ahead of the 2017 tournament, ran out 31-12 winners. Canada scored first against Russia through Olivia Apps, but with captain Alena Mikhaltsova pulling the strings and among their try-scorers it was the Russians who battled back to win 19-5 and leave Canada contemplating their failure to reach the Cup quarter-finals for the first time in series history.

Courtesy of World Rugby