Teams across the board looked tentative in their first hit ups, playing much more conservatively than ordinary pool play.

The upsets

First up, Spain upset Fiji to send the crowd favourites into the Challenge rounds. An upset on the rankings, but Spain looked good after finishing their season well. As a side, they’re really starting to look like contenders and did well to put pressure on Fiji who had a chance to steal it in the final play but couldn’t convert.

In another match with an exciting and close finish, Ireland upset the English to set up a clash with New Zealand in the next round.

The contenders

France was clinical in their first outing, easily handling an exciting Japanese squad. Russia had South Africa beaten in the first half but was outscored by them in the second, with Babalwa Latsha scoring the try of the morning.

Canada and the United States both handled their opposition in Brazil and China respectively, but the true test will be in their next outings.

New Zealand took a minute to blow out cobwebs but piled on the points against Mexico and are looking near impenetrable. Australia had a jittery start, with uncharacteristic handling errors and ill-discipline. The absence of Emma Sykes was felt early, without a successful conversion in the first half.

Emilee Cherry and Sharni Williams shared the kicking, and it will be interesting to see if that continues to be the approach. Emma Tonegato was heavily strapped and tentative, only playing the first half. In good signs, Ellia Green is back and flying, with strong runs down both flanks, while Alicia Quirk and Williams were both engines welcomed back.

The exciting additions

With two exciting second-half tries, the South African side left one baffled as to where they have been. With a squad full of potential and pace, a few small errors of inexperience cost them. They need either an expanded World Series to join, or a more supportive federation, because there’s a quality outfit there waiting to develop. Papua New Guinea snatched a try from the Australians – and it had the crowd delighted such was the joy of the moment.