The Soccer Desk

New Zealand Sweeps RWC7s; US Women Take 3rd

Photo: ESPNScrum.com

Aside from sheep and Peter Jackson, New Zealand is most known for rugby.  And at least on that front, they are now kings — and queens — of all they survey.

Both the men’s and women’s iterations of the All Blacks went undefeated en route to winning their cup finals at the Rugby World Cup 7s at Lushinski Stadium in Moscow this past weekend.  The men’s sevens blanked England, 33-0 in their final match, while the women’s side handled a game Canadian squad 29-12 to clinch their first women’s crown.

The win means that New Zealand are now the rugby world championships holders for both genders for both variations of the sport: 7-a-side and 15-a-side.  The All Blacks won the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2010, while the men’s team won their 15-a-side title on home soil in 2011.

The weekend’s victories came at the expense of both American sides.  The American men led the match for a good deal of the game, leading 19-5 with six minutes to go in the match.  But a penalty try and a Tim Mikkelson try tied it for the All Blacks, before sub David Raikuna scored the game winner in stoppage time.  Though that loss hurt, the backbreaker was earlier in the day, when the Eagles lost to Canada 15-14 in their second pool match.  Their 1-2 record put them in the Plate Consolation bracket on Sunday, where they were quickly dispatched by los Pumas de Argentina 28-5 in the quarterfinal.  The result gave them their fourth consecutive 13th place finish at the RWC7s, which is also their best.

The disappointment was magnified on outgoing coach Alex Magleby, who announced in May that he would step down after this tournament.  “It’s frustrating because as a coach you usually get to go home and analyze the tournament afterwards and fix the system, and that’s part of the fun of coaching. I don’t have that opportunity this time–it’s frustrating,” said Magleby.

For captain Matt Hawkins, however, it was a matter of keeping perspective for the future.  “I think for this program the most important thing now is to continue to move forward,” said Hawkins. “We’ve never had momentum like this before, and we’ve always started from scratch and tried to build-up from that. They need to keep what’s there.”

While the men struggled on the weekend, the women flourished.  Arguably the beneficiaries of a light draw at the outset, the lady Eagles were nearly shocked by up-and-coming Brazil, holding them off and winning 12-7.  They would then go on to hammer Fiji 31-5, and turn back Spain 19-5 to finish the group stage unbeaten.  Christy Ringgenberg, the only hold over from the 2009 World Cup squad, and Victoria Folayan, each had a try in all three group matches.  It was a balanced attack, with no player scoring more than one try in all three games.

Coming into the quarterfinals as the 3-seed, the Eagles were matched up against Ireland.  Amy Davis’s try, which gave Ireland the lead after just two minutes, would be the only score of the match for the first 13 minutes of regulation as both teams slogged it out but could not capitalize.  But Nathalie Marchino was able to finally break through with under a minute left and tie the match, which was then untied by Kimber Rossier’s conversion.  Folayan would ice the match in stoppage time with her fourth try in as many games.

That set up a match with mighty New Zealand in the semifinals.  The All Blacks, paced by Portia Woodman’s two tries, led 17-5 early in the second half.  Their defense was too much, denying Folayan and Ringgenberg from getting the US back into it.  Ryan Carlyle finally scored in stoppage time, but it wasn’t enough.  The 17-10 loss was not the end of the weekend for the women, however, as it put them in the third place match, a rematch with Spain.

The earlier loss to the USA had not been a true test of how tough the Spaniards were.  Finishing 2-1 in the group, they edged into the quarterfinals and pulled the upset of the tournament by defeating defending champion Australia.   Their finals dream, however, was ended with a 10-0 loss to Canada.  The US would strike first in the rematch, with Toronto-born Emilie Bydwell scoring the opener two minutes in.  The American’s held perilously onto that 5-0 lead, but could not capitalize.  Then, with seconds ebbing away, Angela Del Pan equalized the match for Spain, but kicker Particia Garcia could not give them the lead, and possibly the win, as she missed the conversion.  Tied at the end of 14 minutes, the game went to sudden death extra time.  There, it took just 84 seconds before Vanesha McGee, who played her college rugby at Temple University, won the game with a diving try.

For the US, the finish was a testament to how far their women’s program has come and how close they are now to the better teams in the world, at least in the 7s game.

Meanwhile, the women’s final saw New Zealand, again led by a two try performance from Woodman with some help from veteran Kelly Brazier, get by upstart Canada to claim the title.  They had lost to Australia in the inaugural final in 2009.

While the All Blacks soared and the US had mixed results, the home sides from Russia put together two memorable performances which also showed their growth as a rugby nation.  The men’s team recovered from a 0-2-1 run in the group stage to beat Spain, Uruguay, and Japan in order to win the Bowl.  The last two wins were dominant performances, as they won by a combined score of 67-5.   The women pulled off a huge upset in their own right, using a 17-15 win over England to catapult them to a 2-0-1 group stage record, only to see them bow out 15-12 to Canada.

Quotes courtesy of USA Rugby // Photo: ESPNScrum.com