Ireland's impressive run continued at the HSBC Sydney Sevens 2019 on Saturday as they reached their first-ever HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series Cup semi-final following a 22-7 defeat of Spain at Spotless Stadium.
The Irish, who topped a pool for the first time on day one, will now face defending champions Australia in the semi-finals on Sunday after the hosts maintained their perfect record over France on the series with a 21-17 win.
The other Cup semi-final pits series leaders New Zealand, who are bidding for a sixth series title in a row, against Glendale runners-up USA.
New Zealand ran out 17-7 winners over Canada in a scrappy opening quarter-final, before Cheta Emba's last-gasp try saw USA beat Russia 7-5, co-captain Nicole Heavirland's conversion proving the difference in the tight affair.
The top eight teams now take a break until Sunday with the fifth place semi-final between Canada and Russia kicking off proceedings at 08:50 local time (GMT+11), with the first Cup semi-final between the Black Ferns Sevens and USA set for 09:34.
The first Cup quarter-final was a repeat of the Dubai final in round two and the outcome would be the same with New Zealand running out 17-7 winners over Canada to take their run of victories on the series to 34 – and 47 in global competitions. Only three points separated the teams at half-time after tries from Ruby Tui and captain Sarah Hirini either side of Ghislaine Landry's score for Canada. Theresa Fitzpatrick scored the only try of the second half as the Black Ferns Sevens showed their defensive prowess to keep Canada at bay to reach the last four for the seventh series event in a row.
Russia had beaten Canada on day one and looked set for a North American double after Baizat Khamidova scored the opener in the second quarter-final against USA. They should have doubled their lead as half-time approached but after a series of pop passes they knocked on a metre from the line. The score remained at 5-0 until the final minute when Jordan Gray-Matyas powered past three Russian players to send Emba over under the posts, giving her captain Heavirland a straightforward conversion for the victory and a repeat of the final at the opening round in Glendale last October.
The third quarter-final pitted together two teams who had just two last four appearances between them, both by Spain. It was Ireland, though, who made the best start in the damp conditions, Eve Higgins (pictured) starting and finishing a move for the first try. They lost Anna McGann to the sin-bin but on the stroke of half-time captain Lucy Mulhall added a penalty – the first of the 2019 series – for a 10-0 lead. Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe dotted down twice in the second half and although Lide Erbina grabbed a late consolation try for Spain, it was Ireland celebrating at the final whistle.
The noise level ratcheted up a notch or two for the last quarter-final as Australia took on France for the first time since their loss to Les Bleues at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018. Australia were up for a physical battle with Ellia Green putting in a huge tackle on Shannon Izar before captain Sharni Williams hauled Anne-Cecile Ciofani into touch short of the line. Emma Sykes and Williams then scored to give Australia a 14-0 lead, but Carla Neisen's dummy saw her cut the deficit on the stroke of half-time. Lily Dick pushed Australia's lead out to 21-5 before Ciofani and Valentine Lothoz scored late tries for France.
FIJI WIN CHALLENGE TROPHY
Asinate Savu scored a late try to beat England 15-12 in the Challenge Trophy final, much to the delight of the huge Fijian contingent in the crowd. Deborah Fleming had given England the lead, but Fiji hit back through Tokasa Seniyasi and Lavenia Tinai to edge ahead early in the second half. A powerful run by Alex Matthews saw the lead change hands for at third time, but Fiji were not to be denied as they first worked Savu over in the corner and stifled an England attack to record their best finish of the series to date. China, meanwhile, finished the tournament with a flourish to leave Papua New Guinea still seeking their first-ever series victory, Chen Keyi scoring a hat-trick in the 31-0 defeat of the Palais with Yu Liping and Chen Ming also crossing.
The Challenge Trophy semi-finals had earlier kicked off the women's action on day two with England meeting Papua New Guinea for the second time in Sydney after winning their Pool A encounter 36-5 on day one. Both teams were missing a player after England's Claire Allan was suspended for three matches for a dangerous tackle on Fatima Rama that saw her subsequently fail a head injury assessment. England were once again just too strong for the Palais, Holly Aitchison and Lizzie Adam scoring braces in the eight-try, 54-0 win. The second semi-final between Fiji and China was a much closer affair, Merewai Cumu finding a gap for the opening score on the stroke of half-time with Merewalesi Rokouono dotted down to seal the 12-0 victory for the Fijians.