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Dubai: Day 1

It’s been a day full of interest on the opening day in Dubai, and the opening day of the 2016-17 Women’s Sevens World Series. 

The opening round of games began as expected, more or less. With Natasha Brennan, Heather Fisher and Joanne Watmore putting England 19-0 up at halftime against Spain, little appeared to have changed, other than the England shirts. Switching from sevens to fifteens and back also seemed to be taking its toll on Spain, as England ran out 31-5 winners.

Olympic Bronze medal winners Canada followed against Brazil, and at the break were in control 19-5 ahead. But – with the first sign that the day might not be so predictable – tries from Santini and Muhlbauer pulled Brazil level - before on the final play, the Canadians won the game.

Fiji up next, against France, have always promised much but never consistently delivered. But they have their great games, and this was one. Fiji’s offloading was as strong as ever and Tima Tamoi and Viniana Riwai started their scoring in style, keeping the ball alive brilliantly. Camille Grassineau pulled France back before the break but Tima Ravisa extended the Fijian lead. Rose Thomas pulled a try back and then on the final play looked like she might have tied the game, but on review is shown to have knocked on. Win for Fiji 21-14.

New Zealand swept past Ireland, before the USA and Russia. Early tries for Petrova and Seredina – but an ankle injury for Nadezda Kudinova changed the game. Two late tries and the USA had stolen the game 12-10.

With Australia beating South Africa the top four seeds were safely through the opening round, and so it continued in round two as England and Canada beat Brazil and Spain comfortably, and France got their campaign back on track against Ireland. New Zealand then raced to a 19-0 lead against Fiji, before Fiji fought back to 19-10, before time ran out.

Now the drama. South Africa – the guest team who could not play in Rio because their Olympic Committee said there were not good enough – took an early lead against the USA. Lauren Doyle pulled a score back, but three more South African tries gave them a famous victory.

In the final round Spain scored a good 21-5 win over Brazil that put them in the running for a quarter-final before the replay of the Rio Bronze final, Canada v England. Jo Watmore put England ahead, but a converted Landry try and then another from Kayla Moleschi put Canada in front. A yellow card against England in the second half proves expensive as Canada race to 24-5, before Alice Richardson scored a consolation try for England. 24-10 – Canada win Pool C.

The final games in Pool B began with Ireland fighting back to tie 17-17 with Fiji, before New Zealand took on France. The French – six tries to Spain’s five - could concede 31 points to the Ferns and still make the quarters, and did exactly that, losing 31-0.

Finally, Pool A ended with two terrific battles First South Africa against Russia was just shaved by the Russians when an error at the end of the game put Elena Zdrokova in for the vital try before the USA pushed Australia all the way before going down just 19-10.

As a result three teams in Pool A ended on one win, with Russia finishing in runners up spot, and South Africa taking third and qualifying for the quarter-finals along with France, with Spain – as so often last year – pushed into the bowl (now challenge) having scored five tries to France’s six.

Tim Walsh, Australia’s head coach, was pleased with his teams opening day: "They went pretty well, a tough start but got the results so look forward to tomorrow. We love it and it’s an awesome place to come, to defend our title it would be a great start to the season and an incredible way to end the year. It was pretty special winning in Rio, a memory that will last, but it’s the past and we now need to look forward.”

Pool A: United States 12-10 Russia; Australia 38-5 South Africa; United States 7-26 South Africa; Australia 20-7 Russia; Russia 19-14 South Africa; Australia 19-10 United States

Pool B: France 14-21 Fiji; New Zealand 27-5 Ireland; France 24-14 Ireland; New Zealand 19-10 Fiji; Fiji 17-17 Ireland; New Zealand 31-0 France

Pool C: England 31-7 Spain; Canada 26-19 Brazil; England 28-7 Brazil; Canada 27-7 Spain; Spain 21-5 Brazil; Canada 24-12 England