Semi-finalists confirmed at HSBC Spain Sevens in Málaga

Picture: WORLD RUGBY

The men’s and women’s Series leaders extended their winning runs to reach the semi-finals at the HSBC Spain Sevens, while a new-look England men’s side reached the last four and Poland women sprang a surprise.

The inaugural HSBC Spain Sevens served up a treat on day two, with dominant displays, major upsets and individual masterclasses on show at the Stadium Ciudad de Málaga.

South Africa’s men moved towards a fifth consecutive HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title by reaching the semi-final with a perfect record, extending their winning streak to 27 in a row.

New Zealand are now the only team to have done better, and their record of 47 straight wins from 2007/08 remains a daunting feat to match.

The Blitzboks face Australia in Sunday’s semi-final, while England and Argentina meet on the other side of the draw after knocking out France and Ireland respectively.

In the women’s tournament, favourites Australia reached the semi-finals with a record-setting 15th consecutive victory to set up a clash with Russia, while France and USA face off in the other semi after enjoying perfect records so far in Málaga.

The Russians had to get past surprise package Poland, who became the first invitational team since China in April 2018 to reach the quarter-final stages, thanks to a shock pool victory over Canada.

BLITZBOKS FACE STERN TEST 

South Africa headed to Spain as favourites after four consecutive Cup victories, but they were made to work for a 14-0 victory over Canada that earned the Blitzboks an eighth consecutive semi-final appearance.

The Canadians competed ferociously at the breakdown and had a try disallowed for a knock-on, as no score was registered by half time.

They continued to frustrate the Blitzboks until the 11th minute, when substitute Ryan Oosthuizen powered over in the corner. A handling error led to Justin Geduld’s try at the end of the match, but Canada exited with their heads held high.

South Africa’s next task will be Australia in a mouthwatering semi-final on Sunday, after the third seeds defeated USA 26-7 thanks to a scintillating second half showing.

Australia started slowly, winning one of their three pool games, and went in level at the break in their quarter-final after Corey Toole’s early try was canceled out by Perry Baker, who gathered a superb Logan Tago offload to dot down in the corner.

But mesmeric footwork from Josh Turner bamboozled the Eagles defence as the Australian danced from the wing to under the posts in the second half, before Dietrich Roache and Maurice Longbottom pounced on loose passes to make it a comfortable win.

A young England side featuring six new faces also reached the last four thanks to a 12-5 win over a much-fancied France side.

All the scoring came in the first half as Hayden Hyde and Blake Boyland crossed either side of a Joachim Trouabal try, and French resistance finished when Varian Pasquet was sin-binned in the final minute for a high tackle.

World Rugby Men’s Sevens player of the year Marcos Moneta was at his sparkling best as Argentina beat Ireland 29-5 to set up a clash with England.

Moneta flew down the right wing to put the Pumas in front before adding a second in virtuoso style by chasing his own grubber kick, dribbling it over the line and touching down.

Luciano Gonzalez walked in a third try before the break and although Conor Phillips struck back, the Irish comeback was short-lived as German Schulz and Gonzalez’s second saw off the challenge.

WOMEN’S FAVOURITES FLEX MUSCLES 

Poland’s superb run to the knockouts was the story of the pool stages in the women’s event, but they came undone against fourth seeds Russia with a 26-5 defeat, despite a dream start.

Julia Drugzala profited on a loose pass to put the Poles ahead in the opening minute and spark hopes of a major upset.

But an inspired hat-trick from Russia’s second all-time top try scorer Alena Tiron and a late Baizat Khamidova score secured a comfortable Russian victory.

They face a huge task next against HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022 leaders Australia, winners of both Dubai events at the end of last year, who romped to a 33-10 win over Canada.

Maddison Levi stepped off the bench to cross the whitewash twice as the Aussies put in a controlled and clinical performance.

The USA did enough to edge a hard-fought quarter-final encounter with England, running out 22-17 winners for a fourth straight victory in Málaga.

Naya Tapper showed explosive acceleration to put the Americans in front in an evenly-balanced first half, becoming her country’s all-time leading try scorer in the process.

Two tries in two minutes after the break from Iloha Maher and Kris Thomas extended the USA lead, before Emma Uren brought it back to a one-score game with two minutes remaining.

USA will face France in the semi-finals on Sunday after Les Bleues responded brilliantly to an early Beibhinn Parsons try to put Ireland away with a 33-5 win.

Tries from Camille Grassineau, Yolaine Yengo and Valentine Lothoz had the French in charge by half time and Seraphine Okemba extended their advantage after their break with her fourth Málaga try, before Jade Ulutule completed a comfortable win.

GERMANY MAKE A POINT IN THE POOL STAGE

There were some big shocks and memorable moments at the start of the day in the final round of men’s pool games, not least from Germany, who followed up an impressive 12-12 draw with Australia on day one by thrashing Japan 29-0.

Only points difference prevented the invitational team from reaching the knockout stages, as they finished level on six points with runners-up Australia, who fell to a 10-5 defeat against Pool B winners Ireland.

Tournament favourites South Africa demonstrated all their ferocious pace, power and skill as they ran in seven tries in a 43-0 win over England in the decider for first place in Pool A.

In Pool D, France came out on top but finished off poorly by throwing away a 15-0 half time lead to lose 26-15 to Kenya, while Canada rose to the occasion of a winner-takes-all battle against Wales with an impressive 26-7 victory.

Kevon Williams showed dazzling footwork as the American flyer scored two early tries to send the USA on their way to a 24-17 win over Argentina in the decider for top spot in Pool C, while hosts Spain finished on a high by beating invited Jamaica 38-7.

POLAND SPRING A SURPRISE

USA were already assured of first place in Pool B after back-to-back wins on day one, as their final opponents Fiji were unable to travel to Málaga.

Canada’s clash with invitational side Poland therefore became a straight shoot-out for second place, and it lived up to the hype.

The Poles surrendered a 10-0 half time lead to go 14-10 down, only to fight back for a 17-14 victory when Malgorzata Koldej showed searing pace on the wing to complete a stunning hat-trick and set up a quarter-final against Russia.

Canada finished as one of the best third-placed teams to earn a quarter-final against Australia, after the Series leaders defeated Spain 20-0 to notch a third consecutive win and top Pool A.

Ireland took second place with a 29-12 win over invitational team Belgium to book a clash with France, who clinched top spot in Pool C with a confident 17-0 victory over runners-up Russia.

England’s 24-10 win over Brazil in the opening game of the day was enough to earn them a third-place finish in Pool C that edged them into the knockout stages.

Brazil ended the day with a big disappointment after being defeated by Belgium, who, with their first participation, gained its first victory in the World Series. This semi-final clash for 9th place was played out in extra time with each team alternating tries until Ciska De Grave sealed the score for the BelSevens, 12-17.

DAY THREE PREVIEW

The action at the Stadium Ciudad de Málaga begins at 10:00 local time (GMT +1) with two Women’s fifth-placed semi-finals, as England face Ireland and Canada get the chance for revenge against Poland.

But the top prize is at stake at 10:44, when USA take on France in the first of the Women’s Cup semi-finals, followed by Russia’s clash with Australia at 11:06.

The women’s ninth-place playoff and the men’s placement semi-finals follow, whetting the appetite for the first men’s Cup semi-final between South Africa and Australia at 14:09.

England then face Argentina at 14:31, followed by a series of play-off finals.

The men’s and women’s bronze finals will be back-to-back, the women’s at 17:37 and the men’s straight after at 17:59.

Finally, the women’s champion will be decided in the Cup final at 18:26, before the men’s Cup final concludes the weekend’s action at 18:56.

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