Dubai: New Zealand captain Tim Mikkelson promised to be among the top contenders for a seventh men’s crown as the Black Caps were joined by Australia, Fiji, England and South Africa as winners on the opening day of the 50th Dubai Rugby Sevens on Thursday.
The six-time defending champions got their campaign off to the blistering start with a 36-7 drubbing of Wales, while Australia were strong in their 43-14 win over Scotland, and England matched New Zealand with an equally emphatic 36-7 result against Spain even as South Africa survived a scare before hanging on to a tense 17-12 win against fellow Africans Kenya.
Leading the battle for the Dubai defending champions were Tone Ng Shiu, Ngarohi McGarvey-Black and Kurt Baker as New Zealand threatened to run away with an easy match. But, Joe Goodchild came up with a try at the end followed by a Luke Treharne conversion to bring some respectability to the scoreline.
“It definitely eases out the pressure on us with such a good start. It’s been a great pre-season and the boys have worked extremely hard to get into the squad to play in Dubai and South Africa. Our goal for these tournaments has is based on all the hard work put in the past three or four months. I am convinced the results will show in the near future,” Mikkelson told media after the match.
Overawed with their opponents, Wales seemed to stutter and cave in from the onset as Shiu’s opening try was matched by two tries and conversions from Baker as the Kiwis led 17-0 by half-time. Shiu added a second early in the second half, while McGarvey-White came and rounded off things late in the second. “We’ve started well, but we need to pay some more attention to the defence,” Mikkelson cautioned.
The playing schedule has been tweaked this year with every team in the men’s and women’s series playing a game each on the opening Thursday followed by the remaining two group encounters the following day, while the knockouts will be worked out on Saturday. “Honestly, it’s been a rather long day today for us. We are used to playing our first game in the morning, so it was a mental challenge waiting to get onto things since morning [play commenced only after 5pm] as the boys were itching to get out there. So we had a pool session, then a bit of a coffee and played cards to try and stay patient,” he said.
On Friday, the defending champions will start off against Canada at 11.36am followed by their final Group C match against Samoa at 5.28pm before the quarter-finalists are lined up. “Tomorrow is going to be a real physical battle against Canada and Samoa. They are two great teams and they are physical. They showed that during the game before ours, so we now need to view that game and ensure we shore up the defence,” Mikkelson said.
“It will be good to start with a win tomorrow morning when it’s time to get onto the horse again,” Mikkelson said.
Later in the evening, Dan Norton banked his 340th career try as England powered their way to a 36-7 win over Spain. Third-place finishers last year when Norton entered the record books as all-time try-scorer, England paced themselves with Dan Bibby cancelling out an early Hernandez try in his 50th appearance for England.
Norton then got his 339th while Tom Emery joined the veteran as England led 17-7 at half-time. Norton’s 340th tried was complimented by captain Phil Burgess and Ollie Lindsay-Hague as England dusted off some early match blues.
Samoa 19 Canada 12
New Zealand 36 Wales 7
Australia 43 Scotland 14
USA 24 Ireland 19
France 12 Argentina 10
Fiji 24 Japan 17
England 36 Spain 7
South Africa 17 Kenya 12