South Africa upstaged New Zealand while defending champions England and Fiji powered past their rivals on the opening day of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament at The Sevens stadium off Dubai-Al Ain Road on Friday.
Over 43,000 fans flocked to The Sevens on the 40th anniversary of UAE National Day to witness the action, according to the organisers.
Meanwhile, the International Rugby Board has announced figures showing that the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens has smashed the record for the number of live hours broadcast from a single round of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
The Dubai round of the 2011/12 Series will accumulate 222 hours of live television, up from 182 hours in 2010. The figure surpasses the previous best, 191 hours of live broadcast from the Hong Kong Sevens 2011. In all, 22 broadcasters are showing live pictures from Dubai, up from 14 last year, which has also increased the number of countries receiving live pictures, from 90 to 120.
Tournament favourites Fiji, who won the opening leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series in Gold Coast, Australia, won an ill-tempered pool A clash against their arch rivals 31-14 in which red cards were shown to both sides.
Nine-time winners of the IRB World Sevens Series were rocked by South Africa who prevailed for an impressive 21-5 victory in pool B.
Crowd favourites England were the most impressive as they roared an emphatic 29-12 victory in a thrilling pool C clash spurred on by a hat-trick from winger Dan Norton. England had blown away Zimbabwe 43-0 and edged past Kenya 19-12 earlier to book their place in the quarter-finals.
France drew first blood but England hit back through Mat Turner and Norton.
Terry Bouhraoua scored possibly the try of the day, though, to level scores 12-12 at the break.
Norton put England back in front with a magic finish of his own after the interval before completing his hat-trick after Turner's break. Nick Royle then came off the bench to seal a comfortable win.
France saw off Kenya 27-5 and overcame Zimbabwe 26-0 to make sure of their place in the last eight - and they will now face South Africa who overcame defending Series champions New Zealand.
Having already beaten Portugal and USA, the Blitzbokke dominated the All Blacks in the deciding pool game.
New Zealand never got into their stride - with Saturday's clash against England a repeat of the quarter-final from the Gold Coast Sevens.
Wales booked their place in the last eight but just like in Australia, they had to survive a scare or two before securing a knockout clash against Argentina.
Having edged past Scotland (14-7) and Canada (15-12), Paul John's side, the Plate winners at the Gold Coast Sevens, turned on the style to thump Australia 33-14 and top the pool.
Australia will face Fiji in the last eight.
Scotland overcame Canada with Andrew Turnbull's hat-trick seeing him reach 100 World Series tries.
Fiji were in ominous form as they powered through their pool with 40-7 and 43-0 wins over Argentina and UAE respectively.
However their full-bloodied 31-14 win over Samoa - featuring a hat-trick from Joeli Lutumailagi - gifted Argentina a place in the cup quarter-finals on points difference.
England coach Ben Ryan claims there is still room for improvement against New Zealand, who beat England 24-14 in the quarter-finals in Australia.
"With New Zealand we know they'll always play well against us and we'll really have to be on our mettle in the quarter-final," he said.
"As a side we're not quite clicking but we are slowly getting there and when we keep the ball we're threatening everywhere."
Ryan also praised Dan Norton after the former Gloucester and Bristol wing scored five tries to take his World Series tally to 54 in 18 tournaments.
"Dan's demanding the ball on the wing, all our forwards are winning great possession and when he gets the ball in space he's lethal," added Ryan.
UAE made a dream debut at the 42nd edition of the Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament with Sri Lankan-born Emad Reyal scoring two tries in their 55-12 defeat against Samoa in their opening Pool A match.
However, UAE were brought down to earth by Argentina who scored a runaway 73-7 victory in the final match after having done well to restrict Fiji, the winners of the opening leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series in Gold Coast, Australia to a 43-0 scoreline.
On a historic day for the nation which is celebrating its 40th National Day, the UAE national team confounded cynics by preventing the former IRB World Sevens Series champions from blanking them in their maiden appearance at the competition.
Samoa as expected scored nine tries with Tom Iosefo, Faalmemiga Selesele and Paul Perez scoring two apiece. Their try by Iosefo should have been disallowed as the ball slipped out of his hands before he touched down.
But the former Arabian Gulf team overcame nerves after Samoa got off to a quick start to surge ahead 19-0 to pull one back with a brilliant individual effort from Reyal.
Dubai Exiles scrum half Reyal drafted into the side for the Goa Sevens a fortnight ago, stunned the mighty Samoans with a spectacular break from the halfway mark to score UAE's first try in the fifth minute and put the finishing touches after the hooter had sounded with Emirati Cyrus Homayoun having a hand in the second.
“It’s just awesome and it’s nice to represent the UAE. It’s like my home country, so I’m proud to be a part of that," said an elated Reyal who is in his first season with Dubai Exiles having previously represented Lanka Lions in the social segment of the Dubai Sevens for the past three years.
“I just wanted to win the game for the UAE and make the country proud – that’s it. This was my ambition from a very small age. I told my dad that I wanted to play for the UAE someday, so I’ve achieved that and I’m happy about it.”
The 20-year-old from Sri Lanka's central district of Kandy showed a good change of pace and a clean pair of heels after hitting a gap on the right flank and racing across before scoring with an extravagant swan dive in the corner for an unconverted try.
Samoa racked up a 31-5 lead at the interval and it appeared to be one-way traffic after the turn around with Steve Smith did succeed in stopping one try-scoring effort.
But having precious little possession, UAE had their hands full in stopping the powerful Samoans who were threatening to run riot.
With just over a minute left UAE coach Wayne Marsters gave Homayoun and Stefan Imbert a run perhaps more in the hope of stemming the tide. However, the first ever Emirati to play in the Dubai Sevens not only made an impact in defence. He made a break on the left even as the hooter sounded, retrieved the ball after being brought down and forced the back peddling Samoans to concede a penalty near the goal line.
The ball was swung wide with skipper Tim Fletcher sending out a long pass for Reyal to canter across for his second try which was converted by Murray Strang.
"We are very excited and proud to perform the way we did. We could not have asked anything better against Samoa," said Homayoun.
"It was nervous, yes. We played well and were very excited to hear the crowds cheering us on and that helped us a little bit more too," he said talking about his experience.
Asked how he felt tackling the mighty Samoans, he said: "It was hard as I thought it would be. He offload it and unfortunately scored a try. I said to myself this guy's not going to come through me."
On Reyal's double he said: "He is a superstar. One long range and second with support. We worked hard to get that. That was one of our goals coming into this tournament, score in every game."
On the impact made by Emirati substitute Homayoun, Marsters said: "Stefan (Imbert) and Cyrus both featured in that last try. They went on and made a difference, Cyrus particularly. He was not just going on to fill in time at the end of the match. He went on and contributed. I was really pleased with the confidence he showed."
Asked whether he expected Reyal to emerge as their key player, Marsters said: "He had a slow start in Goa and scored a hat-trick of tries against India. As the matches went on he grew in confidence. We kind of knew that if he took another step up like he did in Goa, that he could match against the big boys here. We kind of knew that he could surprise a few people."
"We have to be realistic in what our goals are this weekend. We talked about scoring points and I thought we did that and did that well," said Marsters.
He was pleased with the team effort as UAE battled back to score the second try with a last-gasp effort.
"Two tries by Emad great individual try. I was pleased for him but the second was more a team try and I was probably more happy with that. It was testimony as far as support play and fighting right to the very end and scoring points," he said.
However, Marsters admitted UAE came up short in defence.
"Defensively we were 10 or 15 pints a better team than we were this morning. But the first one is always going to be bit of a shock to us. No matter how much you prepare to play against teams of that calibre, still always a bit of a surprise. If we can defensively improve and still be scoring tries, it would be ideal," he said.
Samoa coach Stephen Betham was also impressed by UAE's performance in the first two games.
"I watched the game against Fiji and they sort of picked up their game as well. They kept Fiji up for quite a bit. They were showing signs of improvement with every game.
It's to be expected. Anyway you get better in Sevens when you play as much as you can," said
Asked whether he was surprised for a new side like UAE to have scored against them, he said: "I think they did well. They scored two tries against us. They came off our mistakes and capitalised on it. Credit to them for stepping up and taking their chances."
UAE throttled Fiji in the first half with some gallant tackles before going down 43-0 in their second match on their debut campaign in the second leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series.
The Pacific islanders eased into a 17-0 by scoring thrice in just under four minutes but UAE staged a fight back of sorts either side of the interval.
Skipper Tim Fletcher led by example stopped a Fijian try-scoring with a booming tackle as UAE contained them at half time.
The mercurial Fijians never really into their stride as UAE denied them possession and forced the opposition into committing errors with James Brown dropping the ball on one occasion after crossing the line.
Fiji made no less than four substitutions in the second half with one player going out with a bloodied nose as UAE rattled them launching counter attacks with Emad Reyal sniffing an opportunity but passing wildly for their attacking move to break down.
The Fijians scored four more tries but UAE made them work hard for it with Arabian Gulf veteran Sean Hurley and David Matasio standing out in defence.
Rampant Argentine side scored at will against a woefully inadequate host defence running up 11 tries, six of them in the first half as they surged to a 40-nil lead when the hooter sounded.
UAE's only consolation effort came before the interval when skipper Tim Fletcher put the finishing touches to a counter attack initiated by Chris Gregory while Emad Reyal wrong footed the last line of defence before flinging out a long pass for the UAE try. Murray Strang added the extra points.
"It was a huge thrill individually. We put it through six or seven hands. The boys showed good enthusiasm in our attack. We got the ball three times and we had the opportunity to score twice at least. We scored once and the support play was really very good," said Fletcher on his try-scoring effort.
Ironically they were targeting Argentina but were starved of possession.
"We thought we could compete in that game. Their intensity sort of blew us away at the start within that first seven minutesWe just didn't get enough possession. Their kick-off was really spot on every time and they had obviously rehearsed that. They were just too good in that aspect of the game," he said.
However, he was looking forward to the knockout phase of the competition.
"To be quite honest our competition starts tomorrow (Saturday). We are going to be in their at the lower half of the draw. We got to regroup tonight and we have no injuries.
We have to go back, watch videos, improve on things and just be a bit more competitive," he said.
But there was no respite for UAE as the towering Manuel Montero completed a hat-trick of tries as Argentina ran good angles and outpaced their amateur opposition.
Nicolas Bruzzone and substitute Javieer Ortega Desio got two apiece while Gonzalo Taboado added the extra points by converting seven tries.
Argentina seemed intent on not taking any chances against minnows UAE after escaping with a 28-all draw against Samoa.
After Samoa got the first try, Argentina scored three tries in quick succession to take a 21-7 lead.
Samoa clawed their way back by scoring three tries to regain the lead 28-21. But a last-gasp effort by Montero with Taboada being successful with the crucial conversion to snatch a thrilling draw.
"We underestimated Argentina a bit. For some of the new boys it was a ride when they got an easy try at the start. They took their eye off the ball a bit. Argentina proved it with three tries in three minutes. We were on the back foot from then and we were lucky to come away with a draw," said Samoa's coach.
UAE coach Marsters said they would bounce back despite the heavy defeats because the boys were resilient.
"It is a litte bit down at the moment. They are pretty hardy sort of bunch but they will be hurting because they do take it seriously. It's a team which has lot of pride collectively and invidivually," he said.
UAE's second Emirati Mohammed Rahma who came on as a late substitute against Fiji was overwhelmed by the occasion.
"For me to be a local, I'm proud to represent my country specially because it's the 40th anniversary. It's really special for us. UAE has done so much for me and I think it's time for me to repay. What better than to represent the country," he said.
He was not unhappy that he was used sparingly.
"I just started playing rugby like five years ago. All these guys have much more experience than I do. Even though I'm on the bench I'm really learning a lot from the guys even during training. Just wearing the logo means a lot to me no matter if I play or not. I did have opportunity. I did play and I did my best. That's what counts," he said.
Asked about his experience playing in front of the massive crowd, he said: "It was absolutely amazing. I was really shocked when I came in there. The crowd was absolutely with us. Every time we get the ball, they cheer us with the crowd going really crazy. It also gave spice to the competition."
Fiji 40 Argentina 7
Samoa 55 UAE 12
Fiji 43 UAE 0
Samoa 28 Argentina 28
Argentina 73 UAE 7
Fiji 31 Samoa 14
New Zealand 40 United States 0
South Africa 17 Portugal 5
New Zealand 31 Portugal 7
South Africa 36 United States 7
United States 10 Portugal 12
South Africa 21 New Zealand 5
France 27 Kenya 5
England 43 Zimbabwe 0
France 26 Zimbabwe 0
England 19 Kenya 12
Kenya 5 Zimbabwe 21
France 12 England 29
Wales 14 Scotland 7
Australia 40 Canada 7
Wales 15 Canada 12
Australia 24 Scotland 12
Scotland 19 Canada 14
Wales 33 Australia 14