When do you qualify for the Olympics and not at the same time? When you're the USA Women's National 7s team.
The Eagles did enough to clinch a top four spot in the Women's Sevens World Series by beating France for 3rd in the Canada Women's 7s in Langford, BC, but will have to wait for the official nod next month in Biarritz, France, as the Eagles have to at least guarantee that single point for showing up at the next event.
Ah well, it was almost there, and really, it is there.
Day Two wasn’t looking too good for the USA early-on after the Eagles won their pool on Day One.
Usually, that would mean you’d get a relatively easier quarterfinal game, but Canada had biffed it against Australia and finished 2nd in their pool.
So it was the USA vs Canada, a rivalry that had seen Canada win most of the meetings in recent years, but, oddly, not when they met in Langford in 2018.
The game began with Canada dominating possession and probing through against the USA. But the American defense was excellent, and after a long period where the USA made tackle after tackle, Alex Kelter forced a holding-on penalty, and the siege was lifted.
Eventually, the USA got an attacking lineout deep in the Canada 22. But the throw was not straight, and Canada might have been forgiven for thinking they’d get out of trouble. No such luck. The USA defense was solid again, and Kelter once again forced a holding-on penalty, tapped quickly, and was over.
That 7-0 lead held until midway through the second half, when Charity Williams took the ball from the back of a scrum and outpaced everyone to score in the corner. The difficult conversion went over, and it was 7-7.
But right off the restart, Kelt fended off two Canadians and was gone down the sideline.
The Eagles held on after that, bolstered by some excellent aggressive running from Kristi Kirshe. Overall the offensive was a little static, but Kelter was the difference.
In the semis, she was the difference again, but not in a good way. After conceding an early try to the brilliant Michaela Blyde, the Eagles got into more trouble when Kelter was red-carded for a tip tackle. The penalty was a bit harsh—the tackled player was put flat on her back, but the referee wasn’t having any of it.
New Zealand rolled after that, nicely assisted by some non-calls in the ruck, where the Black Ferns seemed to have carte blanche. Shorthanded, the USA players defended doggedly, and after a sharp talking-to from coach Chris Brown put in a decent second-half performance, but the game ended New Zealand 26 USA 12.
So on to the 3rd-4th game. And, fittingly, this was a game with more on the line than just a medal—if the USA could win, the Eagles would secure qualification for the 2020 Olympics.
Regardless, the Eagles would leave Langford standing 2nd in the World Series, and the only team to make every semifinal.
But beating France would be a tall order as Kelter was unable to play due to the previous red card. The USA kept the ball for long periods, and while the attack again was a bit static, eventually a big run from Ilona Maher got the USA close.
After a worrying clash of heads between Joanne Fa'avesi and Kris Thomas, which saw Fa'avesi leave the field, the USA finally crashed through thanks to Lauren Doyle. Moments later, a long, loopy pass set up Thomas for a fine run and the USA was up 12-0.
Then Kirshe busted through in typical fashion, and Kayla Canett picked up a loose ball to finish it off. This was the USA's most convincing performance, and it secured 3rd place 26-5.
Must Be Nice ...
New Zealand, meanwhile, continued to get the rub of the green, with a phantom knock-on finishing up their final against Australia when the Aussies seemed to have the ball and a chance to overcome a 21-17 deficit.
Canada crushed England behind the speed of Charity Williams.
The Eagles just have to walk onto the field to secure a place in Tokyo 2020, an accomplishment that surely will be noticed by the US Olympic Committee.
The battle in the final tournament will likely be for 2nd. The USA currently holds that position but by only two points over Canada, and four over Australia. France still has a shot at the top four but needs Australia or Canada to have a very bad weekend in Biarritz.
New Zealand is almost assured of 1st, and has already clinched the team's place in Tokyo 2020.
|2018-19 Women's Sevens World Series Standings|
|12||Papua New Guinea||-||-||1||-||-||-||1|