(ISN) – KENNESAW, Ga. – The Women’s Eagles Sevens moved closer to Olympic qualification Sunday with a 50-12 loss to New Zealand in the Atlanta 7s Cup Final.
The Eagles gain 18 points from the third leg of the 2014-15 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series to move ahead of England in fifth place in the standings. The top four teams at the end of the six-leg Series automatically qualify for the Rio 2016, the first Olympics to have rugby included in the Games Program since 1924.
The Final was the second for the Eagles since the start of the Series in 2012-13. Coincidentally, the other Final appearance occurred on home soil at Houston 7s, a loss to England.
Much like its defeat of the U.S. in pool play, New Zealand scored early and often in the 20-minute Final. Kayla McAlister helped to get things started with a burst of speed through the defense and an offload to Portia Woodman, who scored her first of five tries in the opening minute.
Honey Hireme scored the second try of the match in the second minute, but the Eagles remained patient and calm on defense to keep New Zealand scoreless until the ninth minute. Woodman scored her second and third tries to bring the score to 24-0 at the break.
The Eagles had only conceded 36 points in three matches against South Africa and Russia during the weekend, but gave up 81 to New Zealand in 24 minutes of match time. After the match, Eagles Head Coach Ric Suggitt revealed why.
“In all honesty, we need to defend better,” he said. “There’s no secret about what wins championships. We can knock people down and turn the ball over. We’re quick enough to score the tries; we just need to improve on defense.
“New Zealand runs at us really well. We sat back a little bit too much. I think we can get into space a bit quicker and stay in control and not lose our shape, and then be aware of our back-side help. It’s just hard work to defend.”
The Eagles continued to defend valiantly in the second half and were rewarded with tries to avoid a second consecutive shutout against the Series leader. Hireme added her second try of the match in the 11th minute, then the Eagles went to work.
Lauren Doyle used her pace to get the Eagles to midfield with a good line, and her support followed to ensure the team kept moving forward. The Eagles were awarded a scrum 10 meters from the line, where a hard-charging run from Kate Zackary allowed Bui Baravilala to grab the ball and score under the posts for a 29-7 score.
Woodman put a damper on the small celebration with her fourth try in the 15th minute and scored her final try of the match and 14th of the tournament to make it 43-7. Sarah Goss’ first try of the weekend finished off New Zealand’s try-scoring exploits, but Zackary began another scoring play in the final minute of the match. Her run up the middle was followed by teammates, who eventually sent the ball to the wing to Hannah Lopez. Lopez kept out of the reach of defenders on the way to the try zone.
The 50-12 score line may look lopsided on paper, but reaching the Cup Final helps the Eagles inch towards the Olympics. Home-field advantage may have helped, as well.
“We talked about it all week,” Suggitt said. “This is a good tournament for us to be able to [improve in the standings]. Credit to the team for actually believing it and going out and accomplishing that. Now we have three tournaments left. We have to work every game.”
The next stop on the circuit is Canada Sevens in Vancouver April 18-19, the first time the neighbor to the north has hosted a leg. Canada moved to second place in the standings with a victory in the third-place match. Suggitt, a Canadian by birth, is expecting another warm welcome for his Eagles.
“Canada is like our second home, so we should get the same sort of result,” he said. “We’ll be gunning to do that.
“We still want first place. What we want to do is win championships. At least we’re in the right park; we’re playing in the Final, where we want to be. We’re moving in the right direction. It’d be nice to win now, but we know when it’s really important to win.”
The 18 points gained in Atlanta doubles the Eagles’ total for 36, two behind France in fourth place. For their performances, Kathryn Johnson and Victoria Folayan were selected to the Atlanta 7s Dream Team.
The Eagles will return to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., to prepare for Canada Sevens.
Women’s Eagles Sevens | v. New Zealand
1. Megan Bonny
2. Kelly Griffin
3. Kathryn Johnson
4. Bui Baravilala
5. Jessica Javelet
6. Kristen Thomas
7. Victoria Folayan
8. Alev Kelter
9. Hannah Lopez
10. Kate Zackary
11. Joanne Fa’avesi
12. Lauren Doyle
New Zealand | v. USA
1. Ruby Tui
2. Honey Hireme
3. Hazel Tubic
4. Alexis Tapsell
5. Sarah Goss
6. Morgan Morrow
7. Tyla Nathan-Wong
8. Kelly Brazier
9. Michaela Blyde
10. Selica Winiata
11. Portia Woodman
12. Kayla McAlister
Women’s Eagles Sevens | 12
Tries: Baravilala, Lopez
New Zealand | 50
Tries: Hireme, Woodman (5), Goss
Conversions: Nathan-Wong (2), Winiata (3)
Women’s Eagles Sevens | Atlanta 7s
v South Africa – W 36-5
v Russia – W 19-12
v New Zealand – L 57-0
Cup Quarterfinal v Australia – W 10-5
Cup Semifinal v Russia – W 19-14
Cup Final v New Zealand – L 50-12