WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — South Africa beat Olympic champion Fiji 31-12 Saturday to stay unbeaten and atop its pool after the first day of the New Zealand Rugby Sevens, the third round of the 2017 World Series.
In a tough pool which featured Rio de Janiero gold medalists Fiji, bronze medalists South Africa and quarterfinalists Australia, the South African Blitzbokke beat Japan 33-0 and Australia 28-0 before their commanding win over Fiji.
South Africa has made a commanding start to the current season on the world circuit, beating Fiji in the final to win the first tournament at Dubai and losing 19-17 to England in the final of their home tournament in Cape Town on Dec. 11.
"We knew we had a tough pool but the guys came out today, laid a solid foundation and kept building on that," South Africa captain Philip Snyman said. "We work hard on our defense, it's something you can always improve and we're now looking forward to the rest of the tournament."
England was equally impressive in winning Pool A by beating Papua New Guinea 40-0, Argentina 26-7 and Kenya 31-12 to stay on course for another final showdown with South Africa. It will face Scotland in Sunday's quarterfinals.
"We were trying to build through the day today," England captain Tom Mitchell said. "It's been a long time since we last played and it was a case of getting through our rustiness early on.
"Scotland next. We know them very well and we are pretty close with them after training with some of them for (Britain at the Olympic Games). It's always a fierce game with them and it'll be a tough one."
New Zealand scrambled its way to first place in Pool C, beating Samoa 33-0, France 21-14 and the United States 24-12. The hosts will face Fiji in the quarterfinals while France, which edged the United States for second in a tight pool, will play South Africa.
The New Zealanders struggled for most of the day and its most pleasing win was likely over Samoa who are now coached by former New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens.
Tietjens coached New Zealand for 12 years but presided in his last three years over the steady deterioration in New Zealand sevens rugby, culminating in its humiliation at the Rio de Janiero Olympics. He resigned after that campaign and took on the Samoa coaching job in response to what he saw as his harsh treatment by New Zealand Rugby.
New Zealand, under caretaker coaches Scott Waldrom and Tomasi Cama, fielded a young team in the match against the United States which showed composure under pressure.
"It's exciting seeing these young guys taking the opportunity," captain Tim Mikkelson said. "They've been itching every game and it's good to get them on.
"The crossover is really tough and here we want to get up, do our homework, but we're going to have to do things well against Fiji."
Canada finished unbeaten and in first place in Pool D, beating Scotland 28-19, Wales 28-5 and Russia 29-0.