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USA Women Simple, Effective, Winning in Seville

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USA Women Simple, Effective, Winning in Seville

Kris Thomas scored a key try against England. Photo Martin Seras Lima.

The USA women are 2-0 in Seville, putting themselves in an excellent position to finish high in the tournament once again.

The Eagles took apart Portugal, which is a guest team in this tournament and is experiencing the World Series level of play for the first time, and then held off a tenacious England side with a strong second half.

USA 52 Portugal 0

This was a game where you would expect a good team to dominate. And despite being without Ilona Maher, the Eagles did exactly that, keeping to their team concept of play, using their support, and being patient.

It was simple but effective stuff for Kayla Cannet to cut in and draw defenders before a quick catch-pass from Naya Tapper set free Sarah Levy. The Northeastern University grad, who had scored three for the Barbarians touring side in a fall win over South Africa, needed no second invitation and raced in from 55 meters.

Simple an effective again worked, as the ball just went through the hands out to Jaz Gray, who turned on the jets and was gone. Tapper then took the direct route up the middle, got caught, but offloaded to Sui A’au, who dragged various tacklers over the line with her.

That made it 19-0, and the USA wasn’t finished. Smooth passing put the ball out there for Gray to run onto and she finished another try. Then Cannet pounced on a loos ball, the quickly the passes went out to Gray again for her third in the first half.

USA 31, Portugal 0.

The game slowed down somewhat in the second half as Portugal found some possession, and a couple of little handling errors by the Eagles allowed the Portuguese to take some time in the scrums.

In the second half, some subs came on and we got to see Spiff Sedrick for the first time in the game. Her first action was to pack down in a scrum, and her second was to sell a dummy that opened up a massive hole in Portugal’s defensive line and she was gone for 35 meters and a try.

Simple hands out to Levy got the wing her second, and then a turnover led to Kristi Kirshe, who had been content to set up others, and she was gone.

Portugal battled, and showed some grit in their later loss to Canada, but for the USA this was an impressive showing because they didn’t play selfish rugby, but instead thought pass first and kept the ball moving.

USA 24 England 10

This game was very close for at least 10 minutes.

It started with about two minutes of continuous play during which England had the ball almost the entire time. The Americans did get it at one point, on a nice steal by Tapper, but a fumbled pass between Kirshe and her support just 10 meters from the England line gave it right back to the English.

Eventually the Eagles were penalized, and from a scrum England went wide and scored.

The Eagles replied fairly quickly, with Tapper battling out of two tackles to score her 99th World Series try. Nicole Heavirland converted and the Eagles had the lead 7-5.

But, unforgivably, the USA restart didn’t go 10 meters, giving England the ball and a free kick at center. Within seconds Isla Norman-Bell was over and England led 10-7.

There was time then for one more play, and in this the Eagles took the momentum back. From deep in their half the Americans worked the ball patiently. Gray was set up twice but didn’t have to space to break it open, so she wisely doubled back and found her support. Kirshe made a couple of carries into traffic to suck in defenders, and eventually off the second of those Lauren Doyle saw a gap and was through and under the posts. Cannet converted and it was 14-10 at the break.

The second half began with a superb team try from the Americans. Heavirland found a little space and then the ball went out to Gray. She was able to send the ball back to the right and then looped her entire team to take the final return pass to score in the corner. 

A feature of Jaz Gray’s play that is emerging is that she is very fit and has a high work rate. The fitness allows her to score more than one long-range try in a game (or a half, as shown against Portugal), and her desire to work was seen in the try at the end of the first half against England, and in this try on the other side of halftime.

England couldn’t find room, and when the Eagles got the ball back they sent it wide to Kris Thomas, who fended off a couple of would-be tacklers and was off down the sideline to seal it.

The back-and-forth nature of this game could have been nerve-wracking, but USA co-captain Lauren Doyle, who has been very strong on defense, said the team was just working hard on focusing on one thing at a time. Not getting caught up in the bigger tasks is clearly working.

They also stuck to their approach, which often ended up being sending good passes out wide, and making sure the player on the edge had support for a pass or a clearout.

Cannet, who appears small among all these players has emerged as a brave and intelligent player who has a nice accelerator, and an understanding of the flow of the game. 

The Rest of the Field

Russia and Ireland have impressed in Pool B and their clash on Saturday will decide who is first in that pool. France and Australia have been dominant in Pool C. For Pool A, the USA has Canada to face at 6:57AM ET on Saturday morning. Canada has looked good at times and scored 45 on Portugal, but they did give up a try, and they lost 33-12 to England. Generally the USA team can be more physical than the Canadians.

If the USA ends up 3-0, they will play the 2nd-best 3rd-place team which will probably, the way things are looking, be Poland. The Poles have shown some excellent flashes last week and this week, and this reminds us that Poland took the silver medal in the 4x400 relay in the Tokyo Olympics and that the country has a long history of success in women's sports. Rugby should be no exception.

If the USA beats Canada then Canada will probably be the best 3rd-place team. With the rest of the teams at 0-2, the winner of Spain vs Belgium and the winner of Poland vs Brazil will end up 3rd in their respective pools. Poland and Brazil have far better points difference than the other two, and so the winner of that game (and we think it'll be Poland) should be pared with the USA.

The Eagles, should they win that quarterfinal, would then play one of the 2nd-place teams from Pool B or C—the loser of Russia vs Ireland or the loser of France vs Australia. None of those teams will be an easy prospect.