New Zealand in top form at Gold Coast Sevens
GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — New Zealand made a powerful start to the defense of its Gold Coast Sevens title, emerging unbeaten after pool play on the first day of a tournament which begins rugby’s qualifying process for the 2016 Olympic games.
Playing in Pool A at the 16-team tournament, top-ranked New Zealand emphatically beat France 36-7, Japan 59-0 and Samoa 28-17 to set up a quarterfinal on Sunday with fourth-ranked England.
South Africa topped Pool B, Fiji topped Pool C and Argentina finished atop Pool D after upsetting England 21-19 in the first match of the opening day.
Argentina will now play Samoa, South Africa will play hosts Australia and Fiji will play Wales in Sunday’s other quarterfinal matchups.
New Zealand’s only fright on opening day came from Samoa who led 17-14 early in the second half before the Kiwis reclaimed the lead with tries to Tim Mikkelson and Sherwin Stowers.
New Zealand, which is the current world champion and has won the International Rugby Board World Series in 12 of the last 15 years, beat Samoa 40-0 in the quarterfinals of last year’s Gold Coast tournament. It improved its record against France Saturday to 46 wins from 48 matches and against Japan to 12 wins from 12 meetings.
The Gold Coast tournament is the first of nine rounds of the IRB World Series. The top four teams at the end of the series will qualify to play in the first Olympic rugby sevens tournament at Rio de Janiero in 2016 along with hosts Brazil.
“We, like every other team, want to start with a bang,” New Zealand captain DJ Forbes said. “Everyone knows how important this series will be with so much at stake and that will impact every tournament.
“The Olympics is at the back of our minds like everyone else, but we know to have a chance at qualifying we need to do the basics and tick the boxes along the way.”
Argentina was the first team into the quarterfinals with three wins, following its victory over England with a 14-12 win over Canada and 26-12 win over the United States.
South Africa dominated Pool B, beating Wales 19-12, newcomers American Samoa 48-0 and African rivals Kenya 45-0.
“A win is a win and we took all three of them today but we had a very slow start this morning,” South Africa captain Frankie Horne said. “We’re just lucky we got all three in our pool and we’re hoping we can take it into tomorrow.
“It’s all about consistency and taking it step by step.”
Fiji made its way to the quarterfinals impressively, beating Scotland 40-7, Portugal 38-0 and Australia 35-12. Semi Kunitani scored two tries as Fiji easily fended off the host nation in the deciding match in Pool C.
“There’s some serious teams out there from now on so we’ve got to be on the money,” Fiji coach Ben Ryan said.
England’s day started badly with its first-up loss to Argentina and it now faces the most difficult road through the quarterfinals, blocked by the defending champion.
“The whole day is up for grabs,” England captain Phil Burgess said. “We’ve defended well in the last two games and showed some good heart. There are some tired bodies now and we will be glad of the rest this evening. We will come back fresh ready for tomorrow morning.”