Eagles end day one 2-1 / Photo: Mike Lee / KLC fotos for World Rugby
The USA finished 2-1 on day one of the Sydney 7s, the third stop on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Seven Series, defeating hometown Australia 19-12. The Eagles are guaranteed a Cup Quarterfinal position and await the final game of the tournament between Spain (1-1) and China (0-2).
The final round of pool play brought some light rain, and as expected restarts and longer passes suffered. The first couple of minutes were choppy in both directions, but play remained in Australia’s end. As the home side retreated from a penalty, Jordan Gray-Matyas attacked a gap and dove over the line, 7-0 with Nicole Heavirland’s conversion.
Emma Sykes misjudged the restart, ducking under the deep kick at the last second. As the Eagles rushed on, Australian skipper Sharni Williams knocked on the pickup, and the USA reset with the scrum. The defense did not sit back and challenged the Americans’ go-forward – until the ball moved to Kristi Kirshe. The center turned a scrambling retreat into a quick shot forward, and scored her third of the tournament. Heavirland’s conversion ended up being the winning points, 14-0.
Just before the break, a USA scrum worked through a phase before getting wide to Naya Tapper, who pulled past Alicia Quirk for the team’s third try, 19-0. The score was Tapper’s 65th, the most of any American woman. The previous record holder was Vix Folayan.
Australia needed to build confidence quickly and focused on exerting control and scoring first, and then scoring again. Tapper and Kirshe connected for the first big break of the half, but after multiple phases, a knock-on halted play. A set play off a penalty set Evania Pelite for a speed mismatch and had she released her pass to Sykes to a second earlier, it would have been a pull-away try. But it was a dropped ball instead.
The USA didn’t have much luck either – forward pass, offsides penalty – and Australia started to work the retreating defense well. Alicia Quirk got her opposite guessing, and then a final pass to Pelite allowed a quick burst between defenders, 19-7 with Sykes’ conversion.
Australia was hustling, working with approximately two minutes for two scores, and the team got their break when another knock-on slipped out of the tackle. Ball moved to Emma Tonegato for the try at the buzzer, 19-12 final.
The USA has now won three of the previous four games against Australia. Unfortunately, Ilona Maher has not returned to the pitch since leaving minutes into game one. But some stand-up performances from newcomers like Kirshe and McCravey have been noteworthy.
Day two begins at 6:12 p.m. PT against Russia in the Cup Quarterfinals. Depending on the outcome, the Eagles will face New Zealand or Canada in the subsequent round.
Tries: Tapper, Kirshe, Gray-Matyas
Cons: Heavirland 2
Tries: Pelite, Tonegato