PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AFP): South Africa and surprise side Portugal both swept their three group matches to comfortably reach the IRB Sevens World Series quarter-finals on Saturday. Series leaders New Zealand bowed before first-leg winners Fiji, but with two victories each both teams qualified for the last eight at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in the Indian Ocean city.
Fiji’s Joji Raqamate scored twice and skipper Colin Gregor converted his own try for the 24-12 victory, despite two tries from New Zealand’s Andrew Turnbull in their Pool B match. New Zealand are chasing a record fourth consecutive title in South Africa, and a first this season after they ended runners-up in Australia and Dubai.
After beating Australia and France, South Africa finished off Dubai winners Samoa 29-7 thanks to Chris Dry’s hat trick in Pool A. Their performances saved face after a dismal display during the series’ second leg, notably with a loss against Portugal in the UAE.
Former IRB Sevens Player of the Year Cecil Afrika returned from an injury to give the energy the team lacked in Dubai.
Coach Paul Treu was all smiles at the end of the day. “We can be happy with our result on day one,” said Treu.
“A week ago we started well, but we just see it as progressing as a team. To come out here and give a performance like this on day one is just testament to the boys. Now we can hopefully take the momentum into day two as well.”
In Pool C, Rhys Jones and Will Thomas scored in world champions Wales’ 12-5 win over Spain.
Argentina came from behind for a 12-7 victory over the Welsh but both sides made the last eight.
Dubai winners Samoa struggled to keep up the form they displayed last weekend, winning only their match against France, and losing 26-7 against Australia.
Portugal’s play has improved spectacularly since they lost all five matches in the first round in Australia.
The team reached the quarter finals in Dubai, where they convincingly beat South Africa.
“After Australia where we struggled we went home, looked at ourselves, and tried to work hard to try and make it harder for other teams,” said coach Federico Sousa.
In Port Elizabeth they staked a claim with wins over Canada, Zimbabwe and the United States in an easier Pool D. “The result of the hard work of the boys is getting us through and they can be very pleased with their efforts,” added Sousa.
The United States qualified for the semi-finals thanks to victories over Zimbabwe and Canada.