Green scored two tries in the 3rd place game. / Photo: Mike Lee / KLC fotos for World Rugby
The USA and Australia went into the Rugby World Cup Sevens 3rd place game with similar experiences. Both had lost difficult semifinals, falling a try short of a berth to the final, but desperately wanting to end the tournament on a high. Australia got some salvation and defeated the USA 24-14.
“It’s obviously very hard…. [I]t was a very disappointing game against France,” Australia’s Emilee Cherry said of rallying from the semifinal. “We had so many opportunities but they just really stuck in there and stood up when it really counted. We had to watch that game back and get it out of our mind straight away. The girls flipped that switch and it was really good coming into this game. We put on some good music, everyone was singing, dancing and were having a good time before we went out there, so that was really key for us.”
The first half was choppy, with knock-ons and penalties, as the teams battled for that first score and all the good energy that comes with it. When it looked like the Eagles lost a scoring opportunity, the scrum stole on the USA five meter, and captain Nicole Heavirland tore away to just short of the try line. Abby Gustaistis picked up and forced her way over the line but just lost control of the ball before getting downward pressure on it – no try.
Tapper scored seven tries at the RWC 7s. / Photo: Jackie Finlan
“We always know the USA is going to be so tough. They’ve got some real threats with the ball and we just have to really stick to our game plan when we play them because we know they’re such strong ballcarriers,” Cherry said. “We know we’ve got to cut them off early and not give them opportunities because if we give them opportunities they’re going to counterattack and score against score us.”
The same can be said about Australia, which slipped out of a tackle and moved the ball to Evania Pelite to take advantage of a speed mismatch. She tore down the sideline for the try, and Cherry added the conversion.
An errant offload after the restart gave Australia a scrum at USA’s 40 meter, and the Eagle forwards again stole the put-in. Lauren Doyle, Abby Gustaitis and Kristen Thomas got their hands on the ball and then a high tackle penalty allowed Jordan Gray to crash into the defense. The recycle moved to Naya Tapper quickly, and she darted into the corner for the try. Heavirland made the first of two very difficult conversions, the way she had all tournament long, 7-7 into the break.
The USA got a breakdown penalty after the second-half kickoff and Australia launched a fast attack to the try line. Cassandra Staples took a skip pass out wide and was on her way to scoring, but the play was called back for a penalty in Australia’s favor. But on the reboot, Charlotte Caslick tapped through and switched with Staples for the try, 12-7.
The kicker, literally, came during the tail-end of the match. The USA was looking to get out of its end, but a fast-rushing Ellia Green forced a knock-on just in advance of the hit. The Aussies went sideline to sideline, and then Caslick sent a crosskick to the corner, Green caught it on the bounce and dove into the try zone.
“We were sitting before watching the England men do it and they pulled it off in extra time,” Cherry said of the maneuver that defeated the USA men in Cup quarterfinals. “We were all sitting around absolutely stunned and then Charlotte Caslick did the exact same thing on that field. It’s something the girls always practice but it doesn’t always come off, so for her to have the confidence to go out there, and Ellia to do an awesome chase as well, it just shows the classy players they are.”
The USA certainly wasn’t done and reserve Ilona Maher did well to crash through the middle and open up a little space for Tapper on the sideline. The wing planted that step and then tore away from her defender-turned-chaser for her seventh try of the tournament. Heavirland’s killer conversion made it 17-14 with fewer than three minutes to go.
Australia had the final say, as a knock-on on the restart put it on the attack again. Green picked to the weak side of the ruck and sprinted down the sideline for the final try, 24-14 with the Cherry conversion.
“We’ve been looking forward to this World Cup all season and we’ve been a bit sketchy here and there throughout the season,” Cherry said. “We were consistent enough to win the [World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series] but we knew we didn’t really put a polished performance in and we fell short again this weekend. We’ll be looking forward to our free season and come back even hungrier next year.”