LANGFORD, CAN – The fourth leg of the 2017/2018 Women’s Sevens World Series featured a return to form and a continuance of form, along with some beautiful rugby. The @USAWomens7s have up and download through the first three legs but this was the first tournament that you can say built on the performance in the last tournament by claiming the Bronze…. For the rest of the world, The New Zealand Black Fern 7s squad won again and seem to be turning the battle for series champion into a real dogfight.
The Eagles had their best tournament performance to date. But wait didn’t they come in second in Dubai, you say? Well yes they came second in Dubai so although that was great, they followed that up by being absolutely dreadful in Sydney. What made this special was that they had a mediocre performance in Kitakyushu, bouncing back from a poor first day to win the Challenge Trophy, then they kept that momentum going and went into the Canada leg got a Bronze. They showed progress and that is vital. Here is how the action occurred over the two days.
In their opening pool match win over Russia, the USA exploded out of the blocks. The Eagles dominated every aspect of play in the first half, from set-pieces to the breakdown and it showed on the scoreboard as they were up 28-0 by the halftime. Russia did attempt a fight back in the second half and won that half 2 converted tries to 1 but there was no way to overcome that first half mauling they received, USA wins by final score 35-14. The next match was against the USA’s newest rival, France. The French Women’s 7s team has made huge strides this year and they seem to keep being in the USA’s way whether it be pool play or in the knockout stages. This match saw the USA struggle to match the hot first half in their previous game. The French defense has been incredibly stern and continued to be so in the this match. Through their good defense and turnover work, they scored three tries to the USA’s one in the first half to lead 15-5 at the break. After a good halftime talk by head coach Richie Walker, the USA looked much improved. The Eagles took the game to the French and were up 19-15 with only seconds to play. However, a bit of individual brilliance from France’s Jade Le Pesq saw France win at the death as the USA loss 22-19. The final match of the day for the Eagles was against Japan, just like in the last tournament. The USA needed to win to confirm a spot in the playoffs and they were able to get it. They USA is demonstrably better than Japan but they made hard work of it, consistently getting in their own way. The USA overcame two huge penalties to win the hard fought match 28-7 and qualify for the Cup playoffs.
The Cup playoffs began with a lot of trepidation as the Eagles were matched up against the home side and #3 ranked Canada. The match was a barnburner and an instant classic. It was a great advertisement for the women’s 7s game. So why the gushing praise, well that is because this game had it all. Two evenly matched teams trading blows and it became very clear the last team to score would be winner. The USA drew first and second blood thanks to some good defense and turnover work to go up 14-0. Canada came back with a score of their own which was answered by the USA. Just as people got ready for halftime, Canada scored one more time, to make the halftime score 21-12. USA fans hoped the USA would pull away in the second half but that was not to be the case as Canada asserted itself and they came out to score first and again to lead 26-21 with less than a minute to go. Off a penalty and thanks to some good phase play, the USA’s Naya Tapper found space on the outside and she made the most of it to dot down in the corner and tie the match. It all hung on Alev Kelter‘s conversion kick, which to the delight of Eagles fans split the uprights, giving the USA the win, 28-26. The win put the USA in the semi-finals against the New Zealand. In the semi-final match the USA started in good form and fronted up well against the in-form Black Ferns. The match was tight after the first half at 12-10 to NZ but then the Ferns came out on fire in the second half they pulled away to win 33-10. The loss knocked the USA into the 3rd place match, but still with a chance of winning the final game of the weekend and taking home the bronze. The 3rd place match would be against newly developed rival, France. This time the USA would have the measure of the French defense. It was a tight first half as the two teams traded tries and it ended 7-5, to the USA. From there the USA struck fast after the half but it was a tussle the rest of the half. The second half was filled with penalties as each side couldn’t manage to breakthrough then with little time left, the USA finally struck the death blow to win the match 21-5.
The Unstoppable Blackness:
If you thought this year’s series was over after Australia’s performance in the first two legs, welcome to the “got it all wrong club”. The Black Ferns have steamrolled the competition in back to back tournaments and are now just 4 points behind the Aussies for series title. The Black Ferns once again steamrolled all challengers on the way to crown. The Ferns also scored a major mental blow by absolutely crushing the Aussies in the Cup final by a score of 46-0. A lot will be riding on the final leg in France because it is now a distinct possibility that the Ferns could wrestle the title away from the Aussies.
Australia had a great run until they got the final and ran into the buzzsaw that were the Black Ferns. Despite losing to the USA in the third place match, France have climbed to third in the overall standings. Canada took fifth and Japan salvaged something from the trip as they won the Challenge Trophy.
Final standings were:
Cup: New Zealand
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