The USA Women’s Sevens kicked off their Olympic qualifying season with a strong showing in Dubai, where they captured the bronze medal.
With a similar roster to Rugby World Cup 7s, the USA women arrived in Dubai prepared to show off their strengths and fight their way to a final match. Their hard work paid off with a bronze medal finish on Saturday.
Head coach Emilie Bydwell’s thoughts post-tournament: “It was great to kick off the season and get back on the Series. The competition in the women’s game is improving every time we hit the field and we know that we need to put our best foot forward for every game. Dubai is a wonderful venue, with such an inspiring atmosphere so I am so happy for the players that they were able to experience winning a medal, together, in front of a crowd like that.”
Day one of the two-day tournament in the desert featured three heart-pumping games with the USA going 2-1 with solid wins against North American rival Canada and China. In her Sevens Series debut, Sam Sullivan found a gap in Canada’s defense to score the first try of the Dubai 7s tournament. Despite some scrappy play that gave away a few penalties, the USA held their own for a 12-7 win.
In their next game against China, the USA started with an explosive offense, earning two tries in the first two minutes of the game. In the second half, clinical phase play gave the ball to Ilona Maher to earn the USA’s third try of the match. The Eagles learned from their mistakes in their previous match and cleaned up their defense. China displayed a formidable offense, but the Eagles did well to keep pressure and capitalized on handling mistakes on China’s side, coming away with a 17-7 win.
In their final pool play match, the Eagles faced 2022 Sevens Series champions Australia. In the first half of the match, Alena Olsen took advantage of an uncharacteristic fumble over Australia’s own try line to pick it up and add points to the board. In the second half, Jaz Gray displayed her speed and carried the ball up the side for another try. A few missed opportunities and scrappy defense gave Australia the 29-12 win, and the USA Women’s Sevens went into the knockout stages in second place in their pool.
“It was really important for us to take the pool stages one game at a time, and that is what we did. Canada are wonderful rivals and always bring so much energy and determination when they play us that we know we need to be courageous and stay disciplined in those games. China is a huge credit to the development that is being done with the Challenger series and I feel that they should be really proud of the way that they are stressing the core teams. Congratulations to Australia for their World Series win. Any opportunity that we have to play them allows us to refine our game and review our priorities, so we are looking forward to growing from that final pool game as we move into next weekend.”
Moving into the quarterfinal, the USA matched up against Ireland, who finished fourth in the series last season. Most of gameplay saw the two teams taking turns with possession, forcing penalties on each other and testing defenses. The Eagles’ defense remained strong early on, as Ireland struggled to break through. Cheta Emba stood out in defensive and turnover plays, earning the ball back in Ireland’s line out and again in a remarkable tackle. Ireland responded with their own defensive pressure on the USA. At the 10th minute, Naya Tapper earned the only try of the game by stretching it long over the line, giving the USA a 5-0 win and a ticket to the semifinals.
Bydwell added, “The quarterfinal was a terrific battle against a really strong Irish outfit. That game revealed our character as a team, and reiterated our willingness to fight for each other regardless of how the game was unfolding.”
The USA Women’s Sevens knew they had a fierce matchup in the semifinal against New Zealand, who haven’t lost a semifinal since 2012. A quick turnover gave the USA early possession for some promising plays, including a stunning offload from Maher and a big carry from Tapper. Despite the USA’s organized defense in the first half, New Zealand was able to find a gap and carry over the try line.
A yellow card to Sam Sullivan for dangerous play put the USA at a disadvantage to end the first half, and the Black Ferns Sevens kept the pressure on through the remainder of the game. They remained clinical in their defense and conceded only one penalty to win 36-0. With experience gained from the matchup, the USA reset for a bronze final against France.
Bydwell’s comments after the bronze final: “What we are happy with is the way that we were able to reset after a disappointing semifinal, and come out to execute in the last game. We were on the other side of it at the Rugby World Cup 7s and we were determined to rewrite history with this match. The ability to do this is something that we need to carry forward into next weekend. Beyond that, we won this medal with all 13 players delivering in their roles, which is critically important for us to build off of as we progress through the season.”
The USA women’s bronze final against France featured outstanding plays as the Eagles entered the pitch hungry for a medal. It was a stunning start as Tapper fended off France for an early try. Emba earned the second try for the USA after Kirshe kept the ball in play with a quick offload. A yellow card to Ilona Maher gave France the power play, as they tried to stretch our defense wide. In the second half, Kris Thomas came off the bench and cut through the defensive line for a game-winning try. France dominated the USA’s scrum sets, but physical presence along with great counter rucking from the Eagles kept them on top for a 21-19 win.
Looking ahead, the squad will head to Cape Town with the same traveling roster as they look to rank in the top four for Olympic qualification. With the quick turnaround, the team will enjoy their medal-winning moment before shifting focus on recovery.
Cape Town Sevens begins Friday, December 9, streaming LIVE on Peacock.
|1. Cheta Emba (she/her)||23|
|2. Ilona Maher||18|
|3. Kayla Canett||15|
|4. Nicole Heavirland||28|
|5. Alex "Spiff" Sedrick||6|
|6. Alena Olsen||10|
|7. Naya Tapper (C)||26|
|9. Joanne "Nana" Fa'avesia (she/her)||24|
|10. Stephanie Rovetti||7|
|11. Kristen Thomas||33|
|12. Kristi Kirshe (she/her)||14|
|22. Sammy Sullivan||1|
|99. Jaz Gray||7|