England won the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series for the first time in over three years when they beat New Zealand in the final, easily as it turned out, having beaten Australia in the quarter-final earlier.
Australia had won the three Series tournaments to date but Coach Tim Walsh was looking at a bigger event in Rio in August and rested three of his top players, Charlotte Caslick, Alicia Quirk and Emma Tonegato.
Caslick and Tonegato were the Player of the Final and the Player of the Tournament in Atlanta, respectively, and their absence was telling.
It was a bold step since world-class players Ellia Green and skipper Sharni Williams were still crocked and another good player, Evania Pelite, was injured in Atlanta.
Since six of the twelve girls (including two 18-year-olds and one 17), had played in only five tournaments among them before Langford, expectations were not high. But other teams were probably giving different players a run also.
The Aussies were undefeated in Day One
France played well and scored first after a kick and chase by Izar with nobody at home. Despite some Keystone Cops moments Turner scored for Australia after a Dalton charge. At half-time and a scoreline of 7-7 there wasn’t much in it thanks to Turner who was holding the team together.
Australia was performing better at the breakdown and debutante Ciesiolka was having some good moments when she scored. They won 12-7 but their form wouldn’t have frightened the top teams.
Brazil were better than expected and never got a real thrashing on the weekend. Australia started many of their newbies against the Olympic hosts but gave Brazil no time over the ball and their passing accuracy was hard to defend against. Penitani scored two tries in the first half and the Pearls led 14-7 at the break.
In the second half Murphy scored a long range try and du Toit scored the fourth for Australia to win 28-7.
Emilee Cherry v. France – scored a hat-trick against Russia
Russia got respect because the Aussies started with six of their top players in the travelling squad. Cherry opened the scoring but Zdokova beat the Aussies for pace and the score was 7-7 at half-time.
It looked tight for the Pearls with Turner in the bin but Cherry got her second and then her hat-trick try. The world-class player was just having one of those days and there wasn’t much Russia could do about it; so the Aussies won 21-7.
Of the other teams England was not doing great: Japan ran them close, and they lost 0-5 to unbeaten Canada who were looking ominous. Australia, Canada and New Zealand were the teams that had clean sheets on Day 1.
Australia outclassed Spain 28-0 with Cherry scoring two tries; NZ thrashed Russia 43-0 and England seemed to step up a gear beating USA 29-7.
But France deflated the enthusiastic local Canadian crowd when they they scored wide out at the death to tie the score 12-12. There was a hush as Izar prepared for a conversion about ten metres in from touch. It was heading to the right but the flag went up and France went through to the semis. So much for the good Day 1 form of the Canucks.
Emily Scarratt (2014) – England captain
England v Australia
England had been building in the tournament and despite a loss on Day 1 there could be no slip-ups by the Aussies against this powerful side. So it proved with Scarratt too good for a young defender and the big English girl dotted down.
Australia replied when Walker delayed a pass like an old stager and turned Scarratt who wasn’t needed. When Beck got the ball she passed to Petiani to score on the tick of half time. The score was 5-5.
It was all England in the second half. The Aussies were attacking from their 22 when Watmore counter-rucked aggressively and when England got the loose ball Brown scored. Watmore was involved again when she breached a weak tackle and ran on for a try. The Aussies had several chances that they couldn’t finish off, but England took theirs and were deserved winners 15-5.
New Zealand v France
France gave New Zealand a ding-dong battle. The scores were tied 7-7 when Woodman produced one of her specials to break the deadlock near the end for NZ to win 12-7. It was a top game of rugby.
Chloe Dalton – one of best Aussies in Langford
Coach Walsh rested the experienced Turner, Cherry and skipper Parry from the starting team for this match against France.
The Aussies showed their lack of experience and were down 0-7, but when Walsh sent Cherry and Parry on it was like flicking a switch. It enabled Dalton, one of the best Aussies at Langford, to charge up the middle to pass to debutante Friedrichs, then to Murphy to score.
Half-time score Australia 7 – France 5.
Dalton restarted with a kick on-target for Parry to bat back and when Cherry got the ball she kicked ahead and was first to dot it down.
But when the French turned over ball Tremouliere lumbered up touch to score and the game was tied 12-12.
France were doing well since they had to play overtime in their quarter-final, but in the end the class of Cherry told has she straightened the attack through a gap and passed to Turner for five points. Final score: Australia 19 – France 12.
New Zealand hadn’t won the Cup final since the fixture on the same ground twelve months before, and England not since February 2013 in Houston.
A bit of harmless shoeing by the Kiwis against an immovable object was not sanctioned and Goss scored for them; but after getting the second ball from the restart ruck Fisher, the hard-as-nails toughie, ran past a Kiwi shooter who over-ran the play. She was untouched in her 70 metre run to score between the posts.
The teams were tied 7-7 when there was space down the England left and, wisely, the ball was thrown to finisher Woodman who sprinted 80 metres down touch to score for the Kiwis. When they kicked-off with four minutes left in the half, NZ led 14-7.
But when Richardson did some fancy-footwork for England she got a video highlight try and the match was tied again. Then Fisher powered over with a minute left; she was having a great half of rugby.
Phew, what an end-to-end half; what rugby! Half-time score: England 19 – NZ 14.
Richardson got a second highlight try when she tapped a penalty kick and hared off with the ball. England 26-14.
Time was running out for NZ and when England kicked through after getting tight head ball they counter-rucked and Watmore scored. England could not be headed now with two minutes left.
Final score England 31 – New Zealand 14.
England were not the best team on Day 1 but they were on Day 2 when it counted and it was also when Scarratt, Richardson, Watmore and Fisher, the Player of the Final, had commanding games in the big match.
If they keep this form they will be a danger in the last Series event in Clermont and also in the Olympics, re-branded as Great Britain.
New Zealand threatened but they lack top class in too many positions these days unless they are foxing with their selections. You can see why they haven’t won a Cup title in a year. At least Woodman, the Player of the Tournament, is back to best form.
Portia Woodman – came back to form in Langford
Canada must have disappointed their home crowd with their shift on the weekend but watch out for France at home in Clermont: they were the big improvers at Langford.
Australia did about as well could be expected with the young squad they picked, and they were sometimes thrilling, but England beat them convincingly and on the form of the semi and final may have beaten a full-strength Aussie team.
Third place is a good result for this group and if they get sixth-place or higher in the last event in Clermont they will win the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series for the first time.
Of the stalwarts Emilee Cherry, Shannon Parry and Chloe Dalton were the best of the Aussies in Canada; inexperienced Mahalia Murphy had some good moments, as did debutante Georgie Friedrichs in the little time she had on the pitch.
We are focussing on the twelve likely Olympians at present but Langford confirmed that Tim Walsh has done a great job and has some promising players post-Rio.