Turner sails to the rescue after Cook Islands serve up scare

England, the top seeds, England had to come from 17-0 down at half-time to beat the Cook Islands 21-17 and to preserve their unbeaten record on the opening day of the New Zealand round of the world sevens rugby series yesterday.

England needed a last-minute try by Mat Turner to claw back the lead and to qualify at the top of Pool A in the four-pool, 16-team tournament.

New Zealand topped Pool B, Australia topped Pool C – knocking the world champions Samoa into second place – and defending champions Fiji topped Pool D, despite being held 7-7 by South Africa in their last game.

England will play Argentina, Fiji will meet Samoa, Australia will face South Africa and New Zealand will tackle Wales in quarter-finals today.

The Cook Islands rocked England in their second pool match with tries to Turori Matutu, Sailosi Nagi and Koiatu Koiatu to lead 17-0 at half-time. England recovered with two second-half tries to Turner and another to the veteran Ben Gollings, the leading all-time pointscorer in the world series who also added three conversions.

In their other pool matches, England beat the United States 31-12 and Wales 33-7.

New Zealand also struggled early, beating Scotland 29-12, before finding their tryscoring touch to beat Papua New Guinea 45-0 and Argentina 34-7. The newcomer Frank Halai scored three tries against Argentina to finish the first day with six, lifting his tally in three tournaments so far this season to 16.

"The game against Argentina was a good game to take confidence into tomorrow and into the game against Wales because they're a tough team to beat," said the New Zealand coach, Gordon Tietjens.

Australia beat Samoa 29-5 in the final game in Pool C to finish at the top of the most hotly contested pool. They had previously beaten Tonga 47-7 and Kenya 21-19 while Samoa, the champions in Wellington two years ago, beat luckless Kenya 24-21 and Tonga 17-0.

Fiji opened their campaign with two impressive wins, 42-0 win over France and 38-0 over Canada, before drawing with South Africa. Seremaia Burotu scored Fiji's only try in the fourth minute of the first half while Branco du Preez converted his own try to equalise with less than a minute of the match remaining.

South Africa had earlier been beaten 14-12 by France in one of the major upsets of the first day.

England lead the world series with 44 points after two rounds from New Zealand with 40 and Samoa with 36.