As the sun beamed down on Westhills Stadium in Langford on a beautiful, windless Saturday in British Columbia, the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series players took those perfect conditions and served up a wonderful day’s entertainment that will live long in the memories of the supporters that filled the venue to capacity.
All 12 teams acquitted themselves well, six pool games ended with less than a single score separating them and two teams finished with three wins from three. The fact that one of those teams was home favourite Canada went down particularly well among the 4,000 or so who cheered them on from the packed sidelines.
Unsurprisingly, series leaders New Zealand were the other team with a perfect win-rate on day one but even they didn’t have everything their own way, being pushed extremely hard by the Netherlands and USA before finally clicking against defending HSBC Canada Sevens champions England.
As the crowd was still trickling into Westhills at 10.30 in the morning, the opening game served up a classic with a hat-trick from USA’s Kristen Thomas just seeing the Americans home against the English 21-19 and then, as everyone was recovering from that excitement, the Black Ferns Sevens were given the fright of their lives by the Netherlands in the second game of the day, with Bodil van Wijnbergen and Erin Arends crossing for the Dutch. But in the end, the Kiwis clung on and a late try by Cheyell Robins-Reti sealed the deal for the series leaders, 17-10.
The thrills continued in game three as Ireland came back from 14-0 down to win 19-14 thanks to a late try in the corner from Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe. The other games of the first session were not so tight as Australia beat Spain 26-0, France defeated Russia 24-7 and Canada were too strong for Brazil by 33-5.
Perhaps smarting from their narrow defeat to USA, England were in no mood to tolerate a resurgence from a Netherlands team that had almost pulled off what would have been the upset of the season against New Zealand. Tries from Jo Watmore, Tash Brennan, Kelly Smith and Holly Aitchison put pay to any notions the invitational team had of a repeat performance, finally going down 26-0.
Having struggled against the Dutch, New Zealand were less than convincing against USA either but, crucially, still managed to come out on top 7-0 thanks to a try from Shakira Baker in what was a tough, physical encounter. The Kiwis put England to the sword in the last game with Michaella Blyde scoring a record-equalling five tries in the game, becoming just the third player in the history of the series to achieve that after team-mate Portia Woodman (twice) and Australia’s Emma Tonegato.
Fiji had a tough day, being edged out by Ireland first up and then again 12-7 by Spain. The fact that they held Australia to a 24-24 draw in their last game of the day showed just how dangerous they can be, given the Aussies had registered comfortable wins over the Irish and Spanish. Fiji must join Spain, Brazil and Netherlands in the Challenge on Sunday.
So another exciting day is in prospect tomorrow. First up at 10.30 local time, Canada play England and will carry with them the weight of expectation or buoyancy of vociferous home support (delete as appropriate). The Canucks know that their impressive 100 per cent performance on day one will count for nought if they do what they’ve done the past two years here in Langford and crash out in the quarters.
After that, Olympic champions Australia will face into the American onslaught in the second QF before France take on Ireland in an pan-European affair and New Zealand play Russia in the last match in the round of eight.
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