It was business as usual on day one of the HSBC 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 36 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.
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.
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.
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.