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No major upsets with new format at Rugby World Cup Sevens

July 21, 2018
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South Africa's Siviwe Soyizwapi, center, runs past Ireland players to score during the Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco, Friday, July 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The new knockout format didn’t claim any major upset victims during the first day of the Rugby World Cup Sevens on Friday.

The 24-team men’s field has been reduced to quarterfinalists while the 16-team women’s tournament will be decided among New Zealand, Australia, the United States and France on Saturday.

Siviwe Soyizwapi scored four tries to lead top men’s seed South Africa past Ireland 45-7, while No. 3 New Zealand dominated Russia 29-5 in its bid to become the first three-time men’s Rugby World Cup Sevens champions.

Second-seeded Fiji received a tough early test from Japan but pulled away with a relentless second half in a 35-10 win. Fiji coach Gareth Baber said his team isn’t viewing the World Cup as a bounce-back opportunity after the side lost its grasp on the World Series title last month.

“We had our disappointment with that,” Baber said. “But as a sportsperson you put that to bed and you move on to what the next job is.”

Reigning World Series player of the year Perry Baker scored two tries of 60-plus meters for the host American side in a 35-0 blanking of Wales. USA won their only World Series event earlier this year in front of their home fans in Las Vegas.

“You can’t help but love that and get that boost,” Baker said after taking a victory lap around AT&T Park, home of baseball’s San Francisco Giants.

“After winning Vegas, that shows we can win a tournament. After we won that, everybody was saying, ‘These guys got a chance to win the World Cup.’ People started really believing us and it shows that they showed up tonight to support us.”

No. 1 women’s seed New Zealand followed up a 57-0 win over Mexico in their opener with a 45-0 drubbing of an upstart Ireland squad that defeated England 19-14 earlier in the day. Michaela Blyde led all players with five tries in the two blowout wins for the Black Ferns, who won the Rugby Sevens World Cup in 2013 and will face USA in Saturday’s semifinals.

“Most of the crowd will be against us,” Blyde said. “We’re used to those sort of environments. It definitely brings out their strengths.”

Speedy wing Naya Tapper sparked the Americans with early breakaway scores in both of her side’s victories on Friday. USA also muscled their way past Russia for a couple of late tries in a 33-17 win.

“If you look our team, we got speedsters but we also got people who are just plowing through people,” Tapper said. “We got everything that you could possibly dream of. As long as we do what we need to do to...we’re unstoppable.”

If they get past the United States, the Black Ferns could be headed for another high-profile collision with archrival Australia in Saturday night’s final. The Australians outscored their opponents a combined 69-5 in their two Friday victories to earn a semifinal date with sixth-seeded France, which outlasted No. 3 seed Canada 24-19 in a tightly contested quarterfinal.

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