New Zealand claimed a fourth successive title on the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series – and sixth in total – after beating the Women's Sevens Eagles in the HSBC USA Women's Sevens final in Glendale, Colorado, on Sunday.
The Black Ferns Sevens have now won 33 consecutive matches, including the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens, after another dominant weekend in the opening round of the 2019 series at Infinity Park.
USA were bidding to win a first series title in their fifth Cup final and opened the scoring through captain Nicole Heavirland, but New Zealand's response was swift with Portia Woodman leaving Naya Tapper in her wake to run tie the scores at 7-7.
Woodman ran in a second try in the sixth minute, having too much pace for Cheta Emba to catch her, although the American was close enough to force the Black Ferns Sevens star to dot down out wide, not that it made a difference with Tyla Nathan-Wong landing the conversion.
A quick burst of speed then put captain Sarah Goss through a gap to give New Zealand a 21-7 lead at half-time. That advantage grew when Ruby Tui, who was later named HSBC Player of the Final, straightened an attack and offloaded to Niall Williams. She was initially brought down short of the line by Alev Kelter, but quickly released the ball and dived over the line.
It was left to Woodman to put the icing on the victory by completing her hat-trick, taking her tally for the tournament to 10 and bringing her to 195 tries in series history.
“I’m just extremely proud, I’m proud of the efforts of the girls,” Goss said afterwards. “We played a short pre-season but it’s been great for us because it means that we got to play earlier than we wanted. I thought the girls have performed extremely well. We had girls back in the black jersey who haven’t played in a while and I think they really showed why they are supposed to be here.
“We are just really pleased, we knew that the last world series stung us a bit and if we wanted to continue the success we have to be dominant in every single game and I thought the girls showed that over the last couple of games. We know that we want to go to Tokyo and we don’t want to leave it until 2020, so if we were to qualify, it was going to have to start with this tournament.
“It means that we will continue to build momentum for us heading into Dubai and that’s what our coaches asked of us and that’s what we did.”
USA coach Chris Brown added: “It’s been brilliant here, we had a jersey presentation on Friday night with all our friends and families. It means a lot to play at home. It’s not a big sport here yet but it is growing and to have a stadium where the atmosphere was awesome in front of our family and friends has been outstanding. It’s a blessing (to win silver), again there is always going to be a lot to work on but it’s the way that they came out today and given us this opportunity to build into this series is outstanding.”
CANADA WIN BRONZE
Canada had the measure of France for the second time in Glendale, following up their 24-10 Pool C decider victory on Saturday with an emphatic 28-0 triumph to claim the bronze medal. Bianca Farella ran in the opening try from distance and then added a second in similar fashion, running onto an inside pass from Sara Kaljuvee to score when Canada were a player down with captain Ghislaine Landry in the sin-bin. Charity Williams left the French defence in her wake for Canada's third try before Kaili Lukan completed the scoring.
In the first semi-final, Woodman scored two near identical tries in the first half, turning on the afterburners to run around Julia Greenshields twice either side of Farella running in a try for Canada, who were seeking just a second win over New Zealand in series history. Greenshields got her own back to score a second for Canada before Shakira Baker cut through to make it 21-14 at half-time. Britanny Benn brought Canada to within two points with her 50th series try, but Woodman then turned provider, bursting through tackles for a move that ultimately saw captain Goss cross for the Black Ferns Sevens' fourth try for a 28-19 victory.
France looked set to score the opening try in the second semi-final until a great try-saving tackle from Ilona Maher took Anne-Cecile Ciofani into touch just short of the line, much to the delight of the home crowd. Emba then burst through to under the posts, but on the stroke of half-time Montserrat Amédée pounced from close range to make it 7-7 at half-time. Kelter surged through the defence at the start of the second half before Julie Annery scored in similar fashion to her captain. France worked Jessy Tremouliere over in the corner, but there was time for one more play and the Women's Sevens Eagles kept calm and went through the phases before Alena Olsen found a gap to run in her first series try and tie the scores at 19-19. Kelter made no mistake with the conversion to book the USA's place in the final for the first time since the opening round in Dubai last season.
Earlier in the day, New Zealand proved too hot for Ireland to handle in the first Cup quarter-final with World Rugby Women's Sevens Player of the Year 2017 Michaela Blyde completing her hat-trick on the final hooter for a 34-7 victory after Kelly Brazier, Goss and Theresa Fitzpatrick had crossed.
Canada's meeting with Russia was a much closer affair with only four points separating the teams at half-time after Williams and Landry crossed for converted tries for the North Americans at the start and end of the first half to cancel out Russian tries by Kristina Seredina and captain Alena Mikhaltsova. Williams grabbed her second try to increase Canada's lead with Russia only able to close to 21-17 with a late try by Arina Bystrova.
The third quarter-final was an all-European affair with captain Amédée giving France the perfect start with a try within 30 seconds against England. Ellie Kildunne replied for England but great strength from Marjorie Mayans saw her go over in the corner on the stroke of half-time to give Les Bleues a 12-7 lead. France made certain of victory – and a fourth successive series Cup semi-final – with tries from Caroline Drouin and Carla Neisen.
The noise level ratcheted up several notches for the last quarter-final with hosts USA taking the game straight to series champions Australia with two earlier tries by Maher to take a 12-0 lead into half-time. Australia had recovered from 15-0 down in their Pool A decider with Russia on day one, but simply had no answer to a fired up Women's Sevens Eagles side with Kelter at the heart of everything. Instead Emba powered over under the posts before Maher completed her hat-trick following Australia's only try by Emma Sykes.
AUSTRALIA FINISH FIFTH
Series champions Australia salvaged fifth place, but only after Samantha Treherne kicked the match-winning conversion with the final act following Green's powerful run-in. Australia had raced into a 14-0 lead with tries by Demi Hayes and Sykes, but Ireland regrouped and first Aoife Doyle and then Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird crossed to cut the deficit to two points at half-time. Nic A Bhaird then made a powerful break with Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe in support to give Ireland a 19-14 lead, but Australia had one final say through Green and Treherne.
The battle for seventh place was equally tight between England and Russia. Seredina opened the scoring with her seventh try of the tournament only for Kildunne to hit back England before a try in each half for Mikhaltsova gave Russia a 17-7 lead. There was still time for Natasha Hunt to score a consolation try for England to cut the final deficit to three points.
Russia, who had been medallists at the opening round for the last three series, scored tries within a minute of the start of each half through Baizat Khamidova and Noritsina but ended up losing 21-10 to Ireland in the first fifth-place semi-final after tries from Eve Higgins and Murphy Crowe in the second half.
The last time Australia failed to reach a Cup semi-final was in 2015 and they bounced back from the loss to USA with a 26-12 victory over England, Evania Pelite throwing a great dummy to score before Green, Treherne and Sykes dotted down.
SPAIN WIN CHALLENGE TROPHY
Four tries from the Erbina sisters – a hat-trick from the older Amaia and one from 17-year-old Erbina in her first series tournament – saw Spain run out 20-14 winners over Fiji in the Challenge Trophy final to claim the first silverware of the season. China also finished on a winning note, beating series debutants Mexico 47-0 with Hu Yu scoring two of their seven tries in the 11th place play-off.
The first semi-final was a repeat of their Pool A meeting on day one and the scoreline was exactly the same – Spain beating Mexico 46-0 with Lide Erbina scoring a hat-trick and her older sister Amaia also crossing the try-line. The second was a much tighter affair only decided at the death when China lost the ball in a strong tackle and Fiji went straight down the other end to score the winning try through Mereula Torooti to claim their first victory of the weekend, 17-14. The Fijians had led 12-0 before China impressively fought back through Chen Keyi and Wang Wanyu.
The series continues in Dubai on 29-30 November where Australia are the defending champions.