England will represent Team Great Britain at the Olympic Games in Rio 2016 after beating the USA in a thrilling "winner-takes-all" match on the last day of the Amsterdam Sevens.
The sun-soaked NRCA Stadium also saw Canada beat Australia to claim the Amsterdam Sevens trophy, after yet another epic battle between the two sides. Both teams had wrapped up qualification for Rio on Friday.
New Zealand ensured they would be crowned series champions on day one, and so picked up their trophy for the third year in a row in front of a fantastic Dutch crowd. The Kiwis, led by Sarah Goss, also picked up the Plate on day two while Fiji won the Bowl final.
Speaking after her team ensured Olympic qualification, an emotional captain Abi Chamberlain admitted it was a massive day for all the team.
"It's the dream isn't it? It's probably been one of the best and hardest years of my life. We've worked our backsides off to be in this position and we did it. All credit to USA because they were fighting right down to the end.
"There are games when you go in and you have some doubts and there are games when you know you're going to win... and before that game, the feeling was that we were going to do this. We've proved that we're able to get that far and we're only getting better," said Chamberlain.
The game itself, which was a 3/4 place play-off, went down to the last minute and had the crowd on their edge of their feet. USA led 7-5 after a tense first half, with tries from Meghan Bonny for the USA before Marlie Packer completed some great work to score for England. But the real drama was in the second half when Emily Scarratt touched-down before Jo Watmore added to her points tally with a crucial try towards the end. A converted Kelter try wasn't enough and England won 15-14 to finish the series in fourth place and qualify Team GB for next year's Olympics.
It was also a momentous occasion for Canada who won their first ever tournament on the Women's Sevens Series, especially after coming agonisingly close last weekend in London. The cup final went down to the wire with Canadian stalwart Ghislaine Landry sprinting away from inside her own half to score the winner, and beat Australia 20-17.
The elation was obvious on the smiling face of captain Jen Kish: "Words cannot describe it, it was a long time coming," she said.
"In previous tournaments we weren't capatilising on other team's mistakes and they were capitalising on ours. We came out on top but it could have easily been Australia. I feel we were the better team today. Our goal was to walk away with the cup and right now I'm speechless!" said the captain.
Two tries from Emma Tonegato put Australia on the front foot in the final, but Canada kept it close with a brace from Paquin and one try from Harvey. It fell to Ghislaine Landry to bring home the bacon for Canada and set off scenes of jubilation among their travelling family and friends in Amsterdam.
Earlier on day two, the knockout stages threw up some quality matches in front of energetic crowds in the Netherlands.
Despite the obvious delight at Olympic qualification, England won’t look back on Saturday’s semi-final with too much pride; Simon Middleton’s team were soundly beaten by an Australian team that are well and truly into their stride, and showed no signs of fatigue from the back-to-events of London and Amsterdam. Emma Tonegato opened the scoring, and despite some hard work, England had no real response to the tries that followed from Parry, Pelite and Emilee Cherry.
USA and Canada was a closer affair with the Americans knowing that if they won they were heading to the Olympics. But Canada showed their class and tries from Harvey, Landry and Paquin were enough to give John Tait's team a 19-14 win, and the Americans were left to face a winner takes all match with England.
Russia were technically in with a chance of making the much coveted fourth place when they took the field for the first quarter-final of the day against Australia. However missing some top players this weekend cost the Russians who were 12-0 down at half time, due to tries from Emma Tonegato and Charlotte Caslick. A typically “energetic” half-time team talk from coach Pavel Baranovsky didn’t have the desired effect and a further three scores saw the Aussies run out 31-0 winners.
If anything, the damp early morning conditions in Amsterdam may have favoured England in their last eight battle with New Zealand in the second match of the day. Either way, the girls with the red rose attacked the Kiwis, getting off the mark early with a try from Amy Wilson Hardy. But it wasn’t long until Kayla McAlister was showing why she’s one of the best strike runners in the game, stepping past Emily Scarratt to run halfway down the pitch to score under the sticks.
Natasha Hunt touched down before the break but it was Scarratt who started the swing in England’s favour. The number four was on hand to break away to nudge England in front and, despite an excellent effort from Sarah Goss at the other end of the pitch, the English held on and the delight was evident when Katy McLean booted the ball into touch to end the match.
It was a disappointing end to a fantastic season for New Zealand, who, despite the glum faces as they trudged off the park, are series champions, qualified for the Olympic Games and only lost a handful of matches all season.
The hard work of Ric Suggitt and the USA team is paying dividends. Example? The same team that were hammered 50-12 in Atlanta in February by New Zealand, yesterday put their Kiwi opponents to the sword, 34-5.
They were rewarded with a quarter-final against Spain who have caused a few shocks in the last two rounds, but another upset was a step too far on Saturday morning. Dream-teamer Lauren Doyle scored a hat-trick and Megan Bonny scored two as Spain were swept aside.
France took the field in Amsterdam to face Canada knowing that a loss would see them officially out of Olympic contention. Missing several front-liners and perhaps suffering the effects of the back-to-back tournaments, the French were no match for the focused Canadians and couldn’t even register a score as Canada won 33-0.
France will now have to face a tough regional tournament in Europe which could be made easier by the fact they won't be facing England, who qualified directly through the series.
The joy of the series winners and Olympic qualifiers stood in stark contrast to that of teams who face a battle to get back on the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series next season.
The top nine teams will go into next year’s series with three teams going into a qualifier in August next. It means New Zealand, Canada, Australia, England, USA, France, Russia, Fiji and Spain will automatically be involved in next year’s series.
However Brazil, China and South Africa will now join a series qualifier, from where two teams will join the 2015-16 series from that competition. Dates and location of the qualifier will be announced in due course.
Speaking after the final whistle at the NRCA Stadium in Amsterdam, World Rugby Sevens General Manager Avan Lee said: "What an incredible weekend of Sevens here in Amsterdam to cap off an outstanding World Rugby Sevens Series in 2014/2015.
"Congratulations go to New Zealand for their series victory and to them, Australia, Canada and England for securing qualification to the 2016 Olympics.
"The competition has been intense all season and it’s so exciting to see teams like Canada and USA competing for titles with the major rugby nations," he added.
Highlights from today’s matches as well as features and match clips will appear here.