New Zealand Closes In On Rio 2016

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World Rugby Media Release / Photos by Erich Eichhorn (ISN) – New Zealand claimed the fourth round of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Canada after defeating Russia in the Cup final on Sunday, 29-10.

Team New Zealand holds up the Cup as overall tournament winners of the two day rugby sevens event – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

Playing in their first women’s series final, Russia were brave but easily defeated as prolific scorers Kayla McAlister and Portia Woodman put them to the sword in Westhills Stadium, the home of Rugby Canada.

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Portia Woodman, New Zealand’s prolific scorer, took Russia’s defense to task in the final, virtually having her way on the field – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

It now means New Zealand are well on their way to securing their place at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next year, with mathematical confimation highly likely at the next round in London. 

A day of upsets saw Australia finish the weekend in seventh place, while hosts Canada, who impressed on day one in front of their home crowd, were knocked out of the cup by a very focused England team in the quarter-final stages, before losing in the plate final to rivals USA. They finished the weekend in sixth position. England beat France 19-7 in the third place play-off.

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Australia finished the tournament in seventh place. Russia would defeat Australia in the quarter finals to advance – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

It now means New Zealand is top of the standings with Canada in second place, Australia in third and France, who were narrowly denied a place in the cup final by Russia, remain in fourth. The top four teams at the end of the series in May will automatically go through to Rio 2016. Crucially, heading into the next round in London, England and USA are tied on points, but the English lie in fifth place on points difference. 

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New Zealand remains on top of the World rankings, well ahead of the competition and destined for Rio – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

Before USA lifted the Plate in front of a packed house in Langford, B.C., the Bowl Final was claimed by Spain after they defeated Brazil, 14-12.

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Brittany Benn is tackled by a stingy USA defender – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

“Outstanding tournament” – Horan

Speaking after the final whistle, winning New Zealand coach Sean Horan said: “It was a tough week for our girls as we lost one early to injury, but I’m really proud of them as always.

“I wasn’t surprised to see Russia in the final, we faced them a few times in Dubai and they are amazing players, really fit, fast and physical. Pavel (Russia coach) is doing a great job and it doesn’t surprise me to see them in the final. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see any one of six teams make the final.

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Portia Woodman and company hold up a Russian player attempting to advance the ball – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

“The tournament this weekend was simply outstanding. If you could get all tournaments to be of this quality and calibre, with the support, the togetherness, the focus on players and management, the facilities and the passion…. it was just outstanding,” said Horan. 

Despite the results for the home side not going to plan, Canadian captain Ashley Steacy spoke of her appreciation of the large crowds: “We’re really gutted. We left a few tries out there. We wanted to win the final game for our fans so it’s disappointing. The crowds have been awesome and we are thankful they all came out to watch. We’ll now go back to the drawing board and get ready for London and Amsterdam.” 

Quarter-finals 

Australia took on Russia in the first match of the day, with Sharni Williams and her team fully expected to get past the Russians and into the semi-final. However Russian coach Pavel  Baranovsky and his team had other ideas, and they tore into the girls in gold from the off. Tries from Bogacheva, Kudinova and Titova were enough to claim victory 17-12, despite a late fight-back by the Australians.

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The Russian defense stepped up against an Australian team tied for second place in the IRB standings coming into the tournament – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

Australian captain Sharni Williams said afterwards: “We’re so disappointed, we tried to hit back from the disappointment of Atlanta but we’re back where we were. It’s pretty tough, but we gotta get back and recover and bounce back like us Aussies do.

“We missed a few tackles and around the ruck area we were bumped off the ball. Our ball security and sealer weren’t physical enough and they took advantage.”

France came into their quarter-final against USA off the back of a disappointing loss to Australia on day one. However David Courteix’s team played with a lot more focus and discipline against the Americans, in what could be an important match in the battle for fourth place. Despite a physical effort from the USA, tries from Horta, Christelle Le Duff and Troncy saw them ease out a 17-0 win.

The Westhills Stadium shook as hosts Canada welcomed England, but despite the raucous home crowd, John Tait’s girls were behind the curve on Sunday morning and an English team playing with poise and structure always had the upper hand. In a tense match, tries from Amy Wilson-Hardy and Emily Scarratt made the difference.

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Canada would drop their quarter final match to England to spoil any hope of a Finals test against New Zealand – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

 

England coach Simon Middleton said after the win: “We got some great talent in the side, so we just got to relax and play and yesterday (day one) we played the best football in the entire series so far.

“We stuck to the game plan, we worked hard on the game plan. We’ve got some good individuals but to be a good team you’ve got to be disciplined,” said Middleton.

Elsewhere, Fiji, despite some great ball handling skills weren’t a match for New Zealand who beat their island rivals 26-5. 

Semi-finals

When France are focused and playing to their potential they can be lethal, but when the attention spans drops, they pay for it. Coach David Courteix looked on in horror as his experienced captain Fanny Horta put boot to ball at the end of this gripping semi-final when the French were behind 14-12, as the clock had gone into the red. The result saw the ball go into touch and France were out. 

Russia did very well to defend against the French and capitalised with tries from Kudinova and Kukina. Biscarat and dream-teamer Grassineau both scored for France, but the two conversions made the difference and Russia made it into their first ever series final.

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Russia celebrates thier semi-final win to make it to thier first ever final – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

England were rightly unhappy with their performance at the last round in Atlanta, USA but can leave Canada with their heads held high. A stellar performance was not accurately represented by the 24-12 scoreline in the second semi-final against New Zealand, and the Kiwis will not look forward to potentially meeting Simon Middleton’s charges at the next round in London.

Amy Wilson-Hardy played her best rugby in an England jersey this weekend and played her part in tries from Alice Richardson and Jo Watmore in the semi. But tries from old-reliables Kayla McAlister and Portia Woodman, as well as Blyde and Goss, saw New Zealand progress to yet another Cup final this season.

Final

Despite Pavel Baranovsky and many of the Canadian fans desperately wishing for a massive upset at the Westhills Stadium, the final was, for the most part, one-way traffic in favour of the reigning champions. New Zealand got off the mark early with a try from Kayla McAlister, which opened the floodgates for Honey Hireme, Carla Hohepa and two from Portia Woodman. Woodman, who made the tournament’s dream team for her performance over the weekend, has now racked up 85 tries and a whopping 425 points in the women’s series. 

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New Zealand’s Broughton tries to bring down a Russian flyer – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

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A New Zealand defender knocks back a Russian ball carrier away from the try line – Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedi.ca)

Russia’s Ekaterina Kazakova was tireless throughout the final, running in two magnificent tries to put credibility on the scoreboard, but it was New Zealand who appeared behind the winners board for the fourth time this season, and all but confirmed Olympic qualification.

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The series now moves to Europe for back-to-back tournaments in London (15-16 May) and then Amsterdam where the series champions will be crowned on 23-24 May. 

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