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USA Women to Vegas QFs

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USA Women to Vegas QFs

Naya Tapper gets some Spanish attention. Michael Lee KLC Fotos.

It wasn't easy but the USA Women's 7s team is through to the Cup Quarterfinals at the USA 7s Women's World Series event in Las Vegas.

The Eagles started off strong against Ireland with a nice opening try from captain Alev Kelter. But Kelter showed that no one is immune to poor decisions as she was guilty of a late hit on an Ireland player who had scored a try. The Eagle skipper got a yellow card, and Ireland was able to punish the USA for a second try.

While Naya Tapper and Kelter scored in the second half for a 21-12 lead, a tough-minded Ireland team scored twice in the closing two minutes to win 24-21.

Stung by the loss, the Eagles took Spain apart with a series of nicely-executed passages. Good ball movement set up Kate Zackary (although they got a lucky call when Joanne Fa'avesi got up after a tackle in which she was clearly held - looked like it could have been a penalty against the USA). Kelter exploited a missed tackle, and then Tapper scored one of the best individual tries you'd ever want to see.

Defending on her own line, Tapper ripped the ball out of Spanish hands, curved wide right, and then broke through to go 100 meters all on her own. Zackary scored her second to finish off Spain 22-7. Meanwhile, Ireland, with a chance to put the pool in their back pocket, lost the plot against Fiji and were beaten badly 31-5.

That set the scene for the final round. The Eagles fell behind Fiji early but equalized through Kelter. Fiji pressed further and got a penalty right on the USA line. However, the Americans defended well enough to force a Fiji drop, and then slowly the USA team worked their way out of their end. Nicole Heavirland made a crucial tackle and then a perfect pass to Tapper. The USA wing was almost out on her feat having made some crucial cover tackles. But she sidestepped the Fijian defender and everyone else, it seemed, was tired too, and she cruised in under the posts.

West Point product Heavirland made another crucial play at the end of the game, stealing the ball in the tackle with no time left and booting the ball dead to end the game.

The USA team had many good moments, but also a few mental errors at important moments. Against Spain they played a good team game, but found themselves isolated in the tackle against bigger, more physical opponents. The result put the USA and Fiji at 2-1, with Fiji holding the better points difference and thus the lead in Pool B, the Eagles hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. So the key was to wait and see how Ireland would do against Spain to confirm whether the USA was 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Ireland needed to beat Spain by 42 to pass the Eagles, and didn't. In the end, Ireland tied Spain. Had Ireland won, then points difference would have separated the three. Since they didn't, head-to-head separates USA and FIji, leaving the pool standings as follows:

1. USA 2-1
2. Fiji 2-1
3. Ireland 1-1-1 
4. Spain 0-2-1 

At the time of this article being written, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia are all 2-0 and guaranteed a place in th quarterfinals. France or Russia (probably Russia) will also get a spot. Two 3rd-place teams will also get a spot, with Ireland being likely, and then France or England.