Heavirland en route to the first try of the final. / Photo: Alex Ho (hoiho.net)
It wasn’t the ending the USA wanted but the Eagles have to be proud of their runner-up finish at the HSBC USA Women’s 7s tournament. After going 1-2 in pool play, the Americans returned to Infinity Park anew and advanced to the final against New Zealand. The Black Ferns, the standard-setters, are too consistently strong and won the Cup 33-7.
Of the slow start on day one, Emilie Bydwell, USA Rugby Women’s High Performance and General Manager said, “I think that everyone was pretty disappointed. I think there is a lot of excitement especially when you have a pre-season and you feel confident about your pre-season, the work that you’ve put in, and when you’re not able to quite show that the way that you want to.”
USA 7s head coach Chris Brown, Bydwell and manager Liz Strohecker
Bydwell indicated that the team’s longtime sports psychologist along with head coach Chris Brown led a conversation with the team, and that process helped the squad move past pool play and regroup. The Eagles then took down top-seeded Australia and then France to advance to the final.
“It’s something that we would hope we would be able to [do],” Bydwell said of the second-place finish. “I think we were realistic in that we’ve had a coaching change and we’ve had some changes happening. Ultimately we’re looking at January to be our statement of intent but happy to make that whenever the girls are ready to.”
Kelter in the perfect light, figuratively and literally / Photo: Alex Ho (hoiho.net)
The Eagles made quite the statement to start the final. New Zealand was penalized shortly after kickoff, allowing Alev Kelter to kick downfield for a nicely placed lineout. The ball worked wide to Ilona Maher, who didn’t get through but required extra attention. On the way back, Cheta Emba snapped the defense and in the tackle offloaded to on-running co-captain Nicole Heavirland for the try. Kelter kicked the conversion for the 7-0 lead.
New Zealand hadn’t trailed at any point during the tournament, but there was no panic from the black jersey. Strong carries, slippery runners and secure possession, coupled with some USA players falling off tackles, opened up space for the ever-dangerous Portia Woodman. The leading try-scorer – of all-time and the Glendale tournament – beat Naya Tapper and Emba along the sideline for two tries, and added a third in the second half.
Ilona Maher v Ruby Tui / Photo: Alex Ho (hoiho.net)
The USA had its opportunities, as New Zealand erred on two restarts in the first half. Ilona Maher and Emba looked sure to score out wide but the pass fell just short to end the drive. When Sarah Goss broke through the middle, the chase looked a little tired, and it didn’t help that Tyla Nathan Wong was nailing conversions from the sidelines. The reigning Rugby World Cup Sevens champion took a 21-7 lead into the break.
New Zealand was still running hard in the final stretch, and as the team returned to the USA’s red zone, the defense collapsed on Ruby Tui gunning for the try line. The tournament MVP waited until the perfect moment to hit Niall Williams back inside for the try, 26-7. The same flow set up Woodman for the final try and Nathan Wong conversion, 33-7 the final.
Photo: Alex Ho (hoiho.net)
Canada shut out France 28-0 for third place, rounding out the top four. Australia held on for a 21-19 5th place win over Ireland, and Russia finished 7th after a 17-14 win over England. Spain won the Challenge Trophy 20-14 over Fiji, and China finished 11th with a 47-0 win over Mexico. Remember that the top-four finishers in the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series secure spots at the 2020 Olympics.