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USA Women 2nd in Hamilton; 3rd in Standings

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USA Women 2nd in Hamilton; 3rd in Standings

Cheta Emba gets some attention. Mike Lee KLC fotos for World Rugby.

The USA women made a massive move toward securing an automatic berth in the 2024 Olympics with a second place finish in he Hamilton 7s.

Perhaps it was no surprise that the hosts New Zealand won it all, and were in sterling form in the final, taking the Eagles down 33-7, but the USA women had already leaped over significant hurdles.

Defensive Pressure, Nifty Passing See Eagle Women 3-0 in Hamilton

Quarterfinals

Against a Fiji team that has some significant offensive ability the USA wisely worked to control possession. It took some time for the Eagles to get into scoring position, but that was OK as each phase put Fiji under pressure and, eventually, led to a yellow card for preventing a quick tap.

The USA took a scrum and Alena Olsen skated right before feeding Ilona Maher for the first points.

Maher was involved in the next try too, committing a couple of defenders before offloading, and Sam Sullivan did the simple but often effective thing, a simple catch and pass, freeing up Kristi Kirshe to zip around the edge.

Right off the restart the USA won the ball and sent it wide to Naya Tapper, and just like that it was 15-0. The only concern, really, was that with the tries scored out wide the USA’s fairly woeful conversion rate remained poor.

The second half was more of the same, with a quick pickup from Kirshe and an offload out of contact to Sullivan, who did the rest. Olsen converted for a 22-0 lead. 

Fiji finally saw some possession and scored with about two minutes to go, 

With the USA seeing the results, it’s difficult to argue that another player should be starting, but regardless it was good for fans to see Spiff Sedrick get on with 90 seconds left and make an impact, which she often does. In this case it was a simple pickup at the base of the ruck and acceleration between two defenders to go 55 meters. It was a good reminder of her vision and explosiveness.

USA 27 Fiji 7.

Semifinals

Australia had beaten the Eagles in convincing fashion in December, and you wondered if it would be more of the same this time, especially when Madison Ashby got on her horse in support to score three minutes in. It was, in fact, the first try the USA had given up in the first half of any game this tournament. 

But from the restart the Americans responded. Maher had a little run and a backhanded pass to Kayla Cannett, and after a half break from Tapper the ball was sent out to Cheta Emba, who seemed untroubled by attempts to tackle her as she went over.

As the half ended the Aussies made a mistake. With Emba in the sin bin and time essentially up, they got all concerned about getting the ball back instead of just defending. Tapper was tackled and two players focused on counterrucking against Cannett. The American stayed strong and when Sullivan showed up at the ruck there was no one on the weak side. Sullivan needed no second invitation. Shorthanded the USA had found the space.

That made it 10-7. 

The second half was almost all the USA trying to break through to score. Australia’s tackling was excellent but at the same time the quicker passing and support lines for the Eagles weren’t there. Fatigue seemed to leak into their play and passes that were waist high and leading now were head high and directly at the player. It was far, far too much contact, highlighted by Emba trying to go through two tacklers to score, and losing the ball forward.

Regardless, it was a 10-7 win, and a huge one.

The Final

New Zealand scored early and Michaela Blyde got three. Emba got one back in the second half but it was 33-7 for New Zealand.

So, still work to do but as far as the standings go, the USA is clearly in the top three. New Zealand now leads the World Series with 58 points after three events. Australia is second with 54 and the USA 3rd with 50. The next team i the standings, Ireland, it fully 12 points behind at 38. Can that win bring the self belief you need to beat the best teams? Can they find a way to finish strong in terms of skill execution? Can they fix their goalkicking woes? Can they find more minutes for a bench that seems to have a lot of talent?

Those answers are still forthcoming.