USA Women's Sevens fall just short of bronze at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022

Mike Lee - KLC Photos
Mike Lee - KLC Photos

Since the start of the women’s participation in the Rugby World Cup Sevens, the United States has made the semifinal each time, in 2009, 2013 and 2018, the last of which on home soil in San Francisco.

Having narrowly lost to Australia in the 2022 semifinal, the USA entered a fourth bronze medal final against France, dropping the last match, 29-7. The USA offense is what kept them in the tournament this past weekend, averaging 38 carries a game and Jaz Gray standing out as a top try scorer. Looking back, Head Coach Emilie Bydwell is happy with the effort and play this squad displayed in Cape Town. Aside from added competition as a unit, the gravity of a Rugby World Cup is a chance for veterans to cement legacy and newcomers to reach a new stage in their own growth.

As an excited 40 teams are invited to compete in the Rugby World Cup Sevens, the schedule format makes for an interesting experience, with the USA playing only one game a day on Friday and Saturday. Each coming over a day apart and triggering a different preparation approach for the USA as the quarterfinal match against Canada was scheduled for 10:05 PM local time in Cape Town.

Both fixtures would be exciting wins, the first against Poland and later rival Canada under the bright lights of primetime, a razor thin 10-7 win thanks to a charging late try from Ilona Maher. The opening match against Poland went similar to the fixture these teams played in Malaga last January HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. The Americans were clinical in possession and the speed of Jaz Gray was too much to contain. Gray would notch a hat trick on her way to a 39-7 win and ticket to the quarterfinals. Poland would however go on to get their first Rugby World Cup win later in the tournament.

Playing Canada is always a special occasion, no matter where the setting. This quarterfinal was on another level however; with Rugby World Cup implications, the last meeting being a narrow loss on Canadian soil in Langford, and the overall emotions of the North American derby. The entire match was a three try affair with the USA controlling well in the beginning, finding Jaz Gray once again in the try zone. Canada answered back with a stripped ball for the try, but the USA was still on attack for the majority of the match. Maher would earn the decider with two minutes left, carrying two defenders with her to the line and reaching over for points. A scrappy win, but the USA are through to their fourth Rugby World Cup Sevens semifinal.

The quarterfinals were a heartbreaker, Nicole Heavirland would earn a stunner try cutting inside for a line break up the middle, but that would be the only score for the USA. Australia, the 2022 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Champion and team playing on a high lately, were otherwise held to only 17 points and the last five coming in expired time when Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea broke away up the middle to seal the win. Kayla Canett was carted off the field after a hard collision on the Heavirland try, but would be ok later though not returning to the field for the Bronze final against France.

The fourth and final match was a lopsided loss to France who had been blown out by New Zealand in their own semifinal. The USA has had the upper hand on France this year, winning two of three meetings, however only by 5 points or less. Both of these teams are fairly evenly matched, but France was almost exclusively in the USA end for the majority of the match, pressuring well. France runs away with it, 29-7.

After sporadic competition and a summer loaded with training sessions, the USA will now target Olympic qualification as the 2022-23 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series acts as the qualifiers for Paris 2024. The top four teams by series end will punch their ticket to Paris, with the remaining going to potential regional tournaments to sort the last few spots. The USA won’t entirely shift focus to qualification preparation, as Head Coach Emilie Bydwell notes that has been a concentration through the summer already.

Bydwell's closing thougths ahead of next season: