Australia took full advantage of a blip for defending HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series champions New Zealand to stage an early bid for a second crown by breezing to victory in Dubai.
Tim Walsh’s team saved the best for last at The Sevens Stadium Friday, whitewashing Canada, who finished third last season, 34-0 in the final.
The stadium was engulfed by a barrage of noise from an impressive fireworks display following victory as smoke billowed throughout the stands.
When it cleared, the Aussies were still standing, resplendent in their gold and green kit – and they will feel they the chances of regaining the title all-conquering New Zealand took off them in 2016/17 are bright after a vivid display.
They opened up with a 27-0 victory over Japan on Thursday, followed by 22-7 and 31-12 wins against England and Russia to top Pool B.
They beat England (29-12) again in the quarter-finals and Canada (25-7) in the last four yesterday, before dazzling in the final, with Evania Pelite grabbing a score on her way to the player of the tournament award.
Dominique Du Toit added a brace, while Sharni Williams, Emma Tonegato and Emilee Cherry topped the cake.
For 22-year- old star Pelite, victory in the Emirates was reward for all the hard work endured over the summer and in pre-season.
“It’s really great to come out here and get the first win of the series. We went away and worked really hard in pre-season so to come out and perform like that is a huge credit to us,” said the Brisbane native.
“We came out and wanted to focus on us. We came with a game-plan and we wanted to execute it and that’s what we did.”
Next up for the Aussies is their home tournament on the Gold Coast at the end of January.
And having suffered defeat at the hands of Canada in the Sydney semi-finals a year ago and beaten in the bronze medal match by New
Zealand, Pelite insists she and her colleagues will be fired up to perform on home soil, where a second victory would really enhance their chances of series success in a five-tournament season.
“It didn’t go as well as we wanted it to last season but we’re looking forward to going back home, putting the hard work in and hopefully do a repeat of tonight,” added Pelite, who won sevens gold with the green and gold last year in Rio.
“The girls definitely have the fire in their bellies at the moment. You can tell with the atmosphere in the changing room, the team camaraderie, it’s all gelling well.”
The Black Ferns, meanwhile, never finished below third last season, in fact bronze in Sydney was the only tournament in which they did not lift the main award as they celebrated five victories.
But a 14-12 to the USA in the last eight yesterday knocked them out of the running for the main title, Allan Bunting’s side eventually going on to finish fifth.
Australia coach Walsh admitted he was surprised by their exit and contemplated the fact they had not respected the tournament as much as they should have.
“I was surprised,” he said.
“They’ve been in incredible form. But the US are always physical. New Zealand, looking at it, lost it themselves. They had a few kicks
yesterday that went awry and then kicked away the ball a few times against the US, didn’t respect the ball and they (the US) took full advantage.”
Walsh labelled his own team’s performance “exceptional”.
“I thought the semi-final really put us in good stead and they really performed well there,” he added.
“Executed exactly what we were trying to do. Scoring that amount of points and the way we did it, we’re happy with how the tournament
went, it was a pretty exceptional performance, particularly Evania, I thought she was world-class.
“It gives the girls faith in what we’re doing. Such a long pre-season and hard work, to see it unfold instils belief in the programme.
“You need to get off to a good start because with five (tournaments this year) the season’s over before you know it. Every tournament, every game, really counts
Across the 2017/18 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, HSBC are exploring the anatomy of a Rugby Sevens player, some of the most impressive athletes in world sport, by examining the importance of Body, Mind and Soul.
Brian O’Driscoll put his rugby boots on for the first time since retirement to experience first-hand how Rugby Sevens players prepare themselves for the punishing physical challenge of a HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Game.
The ‘Death Zone’, a title borrowed from a term climbers use to describe the altitude at which breathing is almost impossible and even the simplest of tasks become impossible to complete, is a session designed to force the players to make decisions and perform skills in game situations whilst under extreme fatigue.
The session is used by the England Sevens team to put their body under the extreme stress that it will experience during a game of Rugby Sevens.
Series champions New Zealand achieved a perfect three-from-three record to set up a Cup quarter-final meeting with USA, while Australia’s three pool wins puts them head-to-head with England in the last eight.
Canada, third in the overall standings for 2016-17, will play France in their quarter-final, while Russia face Spain. The Challenge Trophy semi-finals will be Ireland v Japan and South Africa v Fiji.
As reigning Dubai champions, New Zealand will be looking to improve on their almost faultless series in 2016-17 where they lost just one of 30 matches. Black Ferns Sevens flyer and recently crowned World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Michaela Blyde is eager that the team continues as they started.
“Morale is pretty high, it’s the first world series tournament and one of our favourites so we are on a really good high and can’t wait to play on day two,” she said. “No matter what team you play or how many tries you score or how often you win sevens is always a really tough game but it’s all about tomorrow.”
As the first of five tournaments on the 2018 series, Dubai holds added significance for the teams as they move toward Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco next July. Points from the first two tournaments on the series will be added to their totals in 2016-17 to determine seedings at the prestigious event.
The Black Ferns Sevens were in unstoppable form on day one, putting a 40-0 win on the board against invitational side South Africa, with six different try scorers contributing.
A Portia Woodman double against France put the game out of reach as New Zealand closed out the match 28-7. Woodman also scored twice in their final pool match of the day against USA as New Zealand notched up seven tries in total to win 45-14.
It was a narrow 19-17 win against USA that kicked off France’s Dubai campaign and despite their loss against New Zealand, they managed to close out the day with a 29-5 win over South Africa, with Montserrat Amedee scoring a hat-trick.
USA finished the pool in third place and will now face New Zealand once more in the first Cup quarter-final on day two.
— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) November 30, 2017
Rio 2016 gold medallists Australia started their day with a straight forward 27-0 victory over Japan, with four different try-scorers going over the whitewash.
An Emma Sykes double against England was crucial to their 22-7 win, despite Deborah Fleming giving the Red Roses the early advantage straight from the kick-off.
Additional tries from Dominique du Toit and Evania Pelite secured the win and gave Tim Walsh’s side confidence heading into their final match against Russia, who they beat 31-12 thanks to a stunning Emma Tonegato hat-trick.
Before their loss to Australia, Russia had clinched a crucial three points against England, the difference being Elena Zdrokova’s try in the dying seconds.
A 36-0 win over Japan, with a hat-trick from Zdrokova, secured them second place in the pool. England finished third overall, still qualifying as a runner-up to make the quarter-finals.
Canada topped the pool with a perfect three-from-three record. Julia Greenshields continued the blistering form she showed in the 2016-17 series, scoring a double against Spain in her side’s opener to help Canada to a 19-0 win.
John Tait’s side continued their form to beat Ireland 31-0, with five different try-scorers going over, and capped off their day with a 31-14 win over Fiji, Greenshields bagging a hat-trick in the process.
Spain, despite losing to Canada, managed to take two wins in the pool and finish second. A double from Amaia Erbina and score from Patricia Garcia helped them past Fiji 19-5, while two tries from Iera Echebarria gave them the momentum to beat Ireland 7-17.
The tournament continues on Friday and tickets are available on www.dubairugby7s.com or can be bought at the Gate.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) November 30, 2017