Spain maestro Patricia Garcia scores game-winner. /// Photo: World Rugby (Mike Lee / KLC fotos)
The USA Women 7s team opened its Langford 7s campaign with a 10-7 loss to Spain. The Eagles had beaten Spain in the teams’ previous eight meetings, but the eventual victor controlled tempo, territory and possession to a well deserved win.
The game began auspiciously for the U.S. Carmen Farmer went up for the opening kickoff and kept possession despite the obvious knock-on. Bui Baravilala was there to secure the ball, which moved to Alev Kelter rushing on. The prop brushed off the defense and scored beneath the posts less than a minute in. Baravilala added the extras for the 7-0 lead.
The restart didn’t go 10 meters, so Spain began its first offensive push from midfield. After a not-rolling-away penalty, Spain scrumhalf Patricia Garcia kicked to inside the Eagles’ 22 meter. Garcia stuck to this tactic, taking penalties to touch, no quick taps, slowing down the game, and was even allowed to toy with her contacts on the pitch for a couple of minutes while play stalled. Less time on the clock meant less time the USA could deploy finishers like Jessica Javelet (who didn’t touch the ball once) and Kristen Thomas.
Spain took its lineout, worked a couple of weakside phases while steadily retaining the ball, and then moved it wide. Ballcarriers were able to get their shoulders past the defense and hit teammates looping around the corner. Marina Brava got past Richelle Stephens and Thomas for the corner try, 7-5 with four minutes remaining.
Spain kept the restart after the U.S. let the ball hit the ground, received a penalty and kicked to the USA’s 22 meter. The Eagles got a temporary break when Spain bobbled the ball in the tackle, but the scrum – like the subsequent scrums – did not go well. Great pressure from Spain’s forwards put scrumhalf Nicole Heavirland under a lot of pressure and the youngster attempted to keep the ball alive by popping to Baravilala in traffic. But Garcia was in the passing lane for the intercept. Spain worked a couple of phases and looked to take advantage of space out wide, but a good Farmer tackle in the middle of the pitch forced a pass into touch.
One on one, the Eagles win on speed, but Spain’s defense was able to slide and cover the deep-setting offense. They swallowed up Thomas as she attempted to run her side out of danger but instead drew a penalty. The wing made up for the misstep moments later when she planted a ball-dislodging tackle that was quickly followed by another smothering Farmer tackle.
That’s where the half ended. The USA had hardly any time on offense, and some of that disconnect played out early in the second half. The USA had a couple of good phases spreading the field, but a pair of mistimed pops out of contact ended that attack.
The most exciting offensive display began with a turnover deep in the USA’s end. Joanne Fa’avesi scooped up the loose ball, fended her opposite, and then deked back inside to get Heavirland past another defender. The scrumhalf found Farmer, who kept her feet long enough for support to arrive. Stephens took the offload, fed Heavirland and just when it looked like the USA could pull away into space, Thomas sent a big knock-on down the sideline.
That ended up being the last good scoring opportunity for the Americans. The USA was penalized in the next scrum and Garcia kicked downfield. The USA was penalized again, and Garcia kicked to the Americans’ five meter.
A heart-palpitating couple of minutes then followed. Spain put four players in its lineout. Garcia hit the short throw-in and then followed back inside for the pop pass and dive-over. The quick pass went just-forward and into touch, but that was one of several tries that should have happened.
Spain shoved the USA off its five-meter scrum, kicking the ball away from Heavirland. Garcia was there to fall on top of the ball in the try zone, but just knocked-on during the grounding. Try two that should’ve occurred.
Play resumed with a five-meter scrum to Spain. Another good push saw Garcia break weak, but Kelter was well prepared and tackled the scrumhalf into touch. Finally, the USA was getting the break it needed as time expired. All that needed to happen was a kick to touch – or out the back or grounded in the try zone – and the game would be over. The USA won their scrum, Heavirland gathered the ball and took a couple of unnecessary steps before spinning around and attempting to kick the ball to touch. Instead, Garcia blocked the kick and dotted it down in the try zone. Spain wins 10-7.
More than anything, Spain controlled the game, had a plan in slowing down the U.S., and executed it. Penalties, unforced errors and some inexperience hurt the Eagles, who will look to rebound against Fiji at 3:42 p.m. PDT.
USA Starters vs. Spain: Carmen Farmer, Joanne Fa’avesi, Alev Kelter, Nicole Heavirland, Bui Baravilala, Richelle Stephens, Kristen Thomas
Tries: Brava, Garcia