Photo: Alex Ho / hoiho.net
France and the USA’s second meeting this HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series was just as dramatic as their first. The Dubai 7s Cup quarterfinal again came down to the last play of the match, and the Eagles clutched a 12-10 win into the semifinals.
Les Bleus’ opening kickoff didn’t go 10 meters, and the USA went to work building nice, wide phases. Eventually the defense gave Lauren Doyle too big of a gap off the ruck, and the co-captain slipped through for the centered try, which Alev Kelter converted, 7-0.
During France’s first possession, the team showcased that fast, aggressive attack for which it’s known, but couldn’t finish any of its opportunities. Passes were thrown into touch or forward, or in one case, nearly into Cheta Emba’s outstretched arms. Some were execution errors, and others were the result of a good USA defense. Ilona Maher, again showing her range, planted a trio of really nice chase tackles to close down the sideline.
The Eagles missed some opportunities, too, as another big Doyle break was turned over in the ruck. An erratic French lineout fell into Kelter’s hands and the center stepped through the middle, but support was slow and ball turned over. The half ended 7-0 to the USA.
Kristen Thomas absolutely soared through the air in chase of the second-half kickoff, but a penalty soon followed that graceful flight. France responded voraciously, but a little knock at the base of the tackle ended a speedy attack. Instead, Maher sucked in four defenders on a fending run, and the ball whipped back to the opposite side. Thomas had one defender to beat with some space, and did just that for the try, 12-0.
There was still plenty of game to play, and although USA’s penalties weren’t affecting the scoreboard, they were giving France more time to make good on their threatening passages of play. Les Bleus stole a USA lineout and moved the ball quickly to the sideline. The tackle was made but a knock-on in the attempted steal gave France the attacking scrum. Caroline Drouin went over shortly afterward, 12-5.
There was less than a minute remaining and France used a penalty to go quickly and put Anne Cecile Ciofani into the corner, 12-10 with time expired showing on the game clock. France opted out of the conversion attempt and instead hustled back to midfield for the restart. Les Bleus didn’t want the tie and extra time; they wanted the win right now.
It was gutsy, but France didn’t even have the opportunity to indulge in the pressure, as Grace Okemba nailed receiver Thomas in the air. A yellow card followed and the ball was kicked to touch to end the match, 12-10.
The Eagles advance to the Cup semifinals to face New Zealand, a team the USA played twice in Glendale. Kickoff is at 1:28 a.m. PT and can be viewed via World Rugby Sevens’ YouTube Channel.