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In what seemed at first glance to be a relatively solid USA performance really wasn't quite that. Instead, the Eagles lacked consistency in their tackling, precision in their catch-pass, and, crucially, the ability to avoid costly penalties.
Sunday started with a 22-10 loss to Australia in the Cup quarterfinals, in which the USA's first try came off a mistake. The Eagles only showed what they can do offensively in the final seconds -- setting up a try for Kristen Thomas. Then the USA came back to defeat England 26-14 in the fifth-place semifinals. That game was the Cheta Emba show as the Harvard grad put in two nicely-taken tries and a big pile of tenacity kept the USA in it.
But that tenacity covered up some issues, namely too many silly penalties in the rucks and too many defenders out of position or not putting the shoulder in for the tackle. In the fifth-place final against Russia, the Eagles lost by five points in overtime but looked in control early. A nice run, pickup, run, and offload from Joanne Fa'avesi set up Naya Tapper for a try. Then some more excellent work from Fa'avesi set up Thomas. But after that, the USA dropped the ball too much, and one such drop led to a Russia counter and try at the end of the first half.
More mistakes gave Russia a 21-14 lead as Fa'avesi failed to cover the weak side on the ruck. Somehow Emba galloped in for a try near the end of the game, and Alev Kelter hit the difficult conversion. However, the Eagles had the opportunity to win it at the end of the game and couldn't piece it all together. Eventually, penalties and more errors opened up a game-winning try for Russia in OT.
The USA is still one of the top teams in the world, but the Eagles have been inconsistent. Only Nicole Heavirland, whose defense was very strong, and Emba were consistently good all weekend. Kelter was a pile of penalties on Sunday and didn't start the last two games. Tapper looked injured or under the weather, and every time she scored she seemed in pain. For other players, there was too much going into contact upright, poor ball placement in rucks, or just missed tackles.
And yet, the USA beat England twice and was within shouting distance of a top four spot. It makes you wonder what the Eagles could do if they execute.
Meanwhile, New Zealand denied Canada the chance to be the first-ever Women's Sevens World Series host to win its own tournament, beating the Canadians 17-7 in the final. Australia beat France 26-12 to take third.
New Zealand stays on top of the World Series with 96 points heading into its finale in Clermont-Ferrand, France, on June 24-25.
Canada is second with 82, just ahead of Australia (also 82 points) on overall points difference. Those three have guaranteed a place in the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco. The fight is on for fourth. Russia's fifth-place finish, coupled with Fiji's poor weekend (ninth), puts the Russians in fourth overall with 58 points.Fiji has 54 points, the USA 52 (sixth), and France 46. The USA doesn't have to worry about finishing fourth because, as hosts, the Eagles already have a spot in the 2018 World Cup.