New Zealand moved a step closer to regaining the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series title in Langford, Canada, on Sunday when they put in a gutsy display in the final against the home side that was enjoying playing in front of a partisan and packed crowd.
A barnstorming display by Ruby Tui that won her the HSBC Player of the Final award, spearheaded an impressive Black Ferns Sevens performance as the series champions-in-waiting registered a 17-7 victory in the final.
Two early NZ tries from Michaela Blyde (one of a remarkable nine she scored this weekend) and Tyla Nathan-Wong, rocked the home team, who found themselves 12-0 down with just three minutes gone. An eerie hush descended on Westhills Stadium, which just moments before had cheered raucously after a rousing rendition of ‘Oh Canada’. But if anyone thought it was going to be a stroll in the park for New Zealand, that’s not how it would pan out as Canada fought their way back into the game.
Indeed, with captain Ghislaine Landry leading from the front, Canada threatened to upset the Kiwis and they hit before the break with a try from speedster Julia Greenshields. And that’s the way it stayed until the final play of the game when replacement Alena Saili crossed in the corner to seal the deal for New Zealand.
Led by Tui, Theresa Fitzpatrick and Niall Williams, NZ did their best to control the ball in that tense second half and they were largely successful, frustrating the home side by denying them possession at every turn.
HSBC Player of the Final Tui was typically humble in accepting her award and also made reference to a number of players who were unable to make the trip to Langford due to commitments with the New Zealand 15s team. She said: “I couldn’t do a single part of my job if it wasn’t the whole team. There were a few girls back home we wanted to make proud, the whole Black Ferns 15s team – it’s a countrywide thing so it was great for us to be able to do that for them. I know they’ll have been following us and they’ll be so pleased.”
Far from being put off by the home support, Tui had nothing but praise for the 4,000 or so Canadians who turned up to shout for their team.
She said: “The crowd here was the bomb, they were off the chain! You can’t ask more from a home town crowd than to cheer for their country as loud as they can because to me that’s cheering for all of rugby so it’s awesome and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
While it was to be New Zealand’s day, it’s worth mentioning how good Canada were this weekend, too. Their chosen theme song, which blasted out across the ground this weekend whenever they scored, was ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ by the cult Canadian rock band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Of course, when Randy Bachman wrote that great 1970s anthem he was being somewhat ironic (“If you ever get annoyed, look at me I'm self-employed; I love to work at nothing all day”).
But no one watching the HSBC Canada Sevens in British Columbia this week could accuse these Canadians of having a work ethic that was anything short of industrious. Whether in attack or defence, they gave everything they had in every game and, in spite of the pressures put on them by the expectant home support, they rose to the occasion, moved into an overdrive of their own and took care of business in front of an adoring and, at times, delirious Langford crowd.
That is, right up to the final when they came up against a young and relatively inexperienced New Zealand that clearly had something to prove to those who said they couldn’t do it without the likes of Sarah Goss, Portia Woodman and Kelly Brazier in the side.
Earlier, the quarter-finals went pretty much to form with Canada, Australia, France and New Zealand all making it into the last four. The home team had never made it past that stage in Langford so it settled plenty of local nerves when Canada took control from the first minute of the game against England with a try from Ashley Steacy. And they never took the foot off the pedal, giving the English no way back into the game, finishing the game 33-5 to the good thanks to further tries from Landry (two), Brittany Benn and Megan Lukan.
The Aussies were too strong for the United States with a brace of tries from Emilee Cherry proving the difference as the Olympic champions ran out 22-10 winners.
France have been one of the success stories of this season’s series and again proved they are something to be reckoned with by beating a tenacious Ireland 19-5 in the third quarter-final thanks to tries from Pauline Biscarat, Fanny Horta and Montserrat Amedee.
New Zealand had it all their own way against Russia, keeping coach Andrey Kuzin’s side scoreless as Blyde, Crystal Mayes, Tui and Saili getting over the whitewash to win 24-0.
The semi-final against France was more of the same for the Black Ferns Sevens as they continued to improve through the tournament. Blyde and Mayes again scored tries, as did Katarina Whata-Simpkins and the peerless Niall Williams as NZ glided serenely into the final.
For Canada, it was less straightforward as they had to come from behind to beat Australia, who went on to beat France in the bronze final, but it was like the crowd in Westhills carried them over the line on occasion as they came back into the contest after an early Aussie try from inspirational captain Sharni Williams. Composure under pressure, coupled with the blistering pace of players like Greenshields and Charity Williams saw the local favourites into the final as they desperately sought to become the first team ever to win a series event at home. Sadly for them, that is an unusual record that still stands.
Among those who didn’t emerge from pool play, Fiji put some of that disappointment behind them by winning the Challenge Trophy, beating Spain 31-7 in the final with two stunning tries from Miriama Naiobasali. On Saturday, Fiji had given up a 14-0 lead to lose eventually to Ireland and then they went down 12-7 to Spain before playing brilliantly to hold Australia to a 24-24 draw. No one doubts that when Fiji finally click they might just be unstoppable.