The Thomas step that preceded the pull-away try. / Photo: Mike Lee / KLC fotos for World Rugby
The USA Women’s 7s team accomplished its first goal for the Rugby World Cup Sevens: Beat China. The 38-7 victory in the Round of 16 now sees the Eagles into the Cup quarterfinals against Russia, which defeated South Africa 24-14 in its Friday morning match.
Captain Nicole Heavirland took the opening kickoff into contact, and the recycle moved wide to Naya Tapper. The wing showcased her trademark power along the sideline, pummeling through defenders to leg out the opening score. Heavirland added the first of four conversions.
The crowd then got a glimpse of another USA trademark: Abby Gustaitis plucking a restart out of the sky. She, along with players like Cheta Emba, reclaim loads of possession for the Eagles. On one occasion, Gustaitis got her hands on the ball, batted it down to Lauren Doyle, who turned the surprise pass into an immediate try.
“It’s absolutely my favorite part,” Gustaitis said of restarts. “Our kickers are unreal; they put it on the spot for me. Honestly I have the easier job of it.”
And when the restart goes deep … “Wait, I don’t want to go play defense – I want us to get the ball back,” the 7s prop laughed. “But literally I’m just saying to myself, ‘Catch the ball. Catch the ball. Don’t even look at the opposition.'”
Gustaitis stole her first restart but then a turnover at the 50 and a penalty saw China exploit a speed mismatch away from contact. That tied it up, 7-all.
“We let that one try in but we turned around really quickly and we didn’t let that get to us,” Gustaitis reflected on the overall performance. “Our heads were high the whole time and we just believed in ourselves.”
With two-and-a-half minutes left in the first half, Kristen Thomas cut back across the defense and then stepped out of a tackle for a long-range score, and then immediately afterward, Doyle gathered Gustaitis’ batted-down restart for a try. The Americans led 19-7 into the break.
The majority of the second half stayed in China’s end, and the USA made good use of their opponents’ mistakes. A knock-on and penalty saw Kate Zackary nearly score, but as the team regrouped, the reserve was there for the final offload and try. Emba then rounded out the day with two tries, stepping her opposite on the sideline for one score and powering through for a second, 38-7.
“The home crowd really just got behind us and we just fed off it. The energy out there is unreal,” Gustaitis said. “We just try to focus on ourselves and internalize the energy and just take it out on the field.”
When the whistle blew, the camera zoomed in on Gustaitis, who wore an ear-to-ear smile as she embraced each teammate.
“It’s an unreal feeling and to just come out with the first win, it’s awesome, and I’m already excited for game two,” she said. “There’s some great opposition out there but as long as we focus on ourselves I think we can get the job done.”
The USA’s Cup quarterfinal kicks off at 6:36 p.m. Pacific against Russia. The victor will move onto the Cup semifinals against the winner of New Zealand vs. Ireland.