USA Women Take Big Steps Forward in Vancouver
USA Women Take Big Steps Forward in Vancouver
The USA women have not officially clinched an automatic berth in the 2024 Olympics, but they as good as did the job in Vancouver.
Playing some of their most dynamic attacking rugby this season, in which they unleashed a faster and more varied attack than before, the Eagles slipped only once in taking 3rd at the Canada 7s. The upshot of that, and beating France in the process, is that the USA is 24 points clear of the 5th-place team, which is Ireland.
So, consider this: If Ireland wins both of the remaining tournaments, and even if the USA finishes 6th in one tournament and 7th in the other, the Eagles stay ahead of the Irish. And that's not going to happen. The USA has made the podium every single tournament so far.
After starting to play a quicker offload game which avoids the slow rucks that help defenses, and also attacking the middle more, the Eagles ran through pool play and the quarterfinals, beating Brazil, Canada, Ireland, and Great Britain scoring four, three, three, and four points in those games.
In those four games the Eagles scored more tries than they did in six games in Sydney.
More on that here: Eagle Women to Another Semifinal, This Time in Vancouver
Well, you live by the sword, you die by the sword, apparently. The Eagles tried to play against Australia and were torched 38-0. Turnovers and penalties were attacked quickly and mercilessly by a fit, fast, and skilled Australian team.
This game got out of hand early.
In the Bronze Medal game against France, the Eagles addressed some of the things that cause them problems against Les Bleus. Most of that has to be with being aggressive and physical, and mentally strong.
The latest episode of The Pioneers, a series produced by HSBC about the USA 7s teams, is a two-parter, with the part about the women being called "The Brave."
So, fine, be brave. That bravada was epitomized in the second USA try against France, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The Eagles opened the game with a massive hit from Cheta Emba, and a jackle from her for good measure. The Americans then moved the ball well and a nasty fend and step from Naya Tapper put the co-captain over.
Then a good team try in which everyone was involved. The Eagles probed for chances both to break through and to offload in all areas of the field, and when it wasn't on, they were smart. Finally the ball was send wide right, where Alena Olsen drew a defender and was absolutely nailed as she passed wide to Tapper. The ball was sent back the other way where Sam Sullivan looped around Emba (loop move, second-best play in rugby) and was gone down the sideline.
But it was that catch-and-pass from Olsen, who paid the price, that was the key, and it was pretty brave.
OK, so now it's 12-0 and France finally gets the ball with 2:45 left. They work a patient attack and look to be ready to score but muff the final pass—this is what happens when you put scoreboard and physical pressure on a team; they make mistakes.
Finally France did score, but not until three minutes into the second half. The USA defense made the French take six minutes to get a try.
Right after that, another wrinkle. Kayla Canett saw that France had no sweeper and popped a kick over the top. The ball bounced, bodies flew around, and Kris Thomas ended up with it. Down the field she goes, gets tackled, and there's Canett ready to pass out to Nicole Heavirland, who is in under the posts.
This is exactly what you want in a group of players who come on late. Canett, Thomas, and Heavirland all came on with three minutes left in the game and all did some important things for this try, including Heavirland getting on her horse and covering the length of the field to tkae Canett's pass.
With more care to speeding up the game you're seeing different players get in on the action. We hardly mentioned Ilona Maher, who played very well, because the attack is no longer giving the ball to Maher and hoping she breaks five tackles.
In the six games, despite the 38-0 shutout loss to Australia, the Eagles when 5-1 and scored 17 tries, touching down three or more tries in every win. This surpasses Dubai, Capte Town, and Sydney totals. (But not Hamilton, where a relatively easy pool helped boost the Eagle numbers.)
This team proved they can score tries, and win tight games, physical games, and important games.
Not Clinched for the Olympics?
No, not yet, but if they keep doing what they're doing right now, they will clinch the spot next time out.
PS New Zealand will clinch when they take the field in Hong Kong. By showing up, they guarantee one point, which is all they need to be sure.
PPS The Eagles are definitely one of the top three teams in the world; the problem is, #1 and #2 are still clearly stronger, so there's work to do.