Defending champions New Zealand produced a sublime display of attacking rugby to beat first-time finalists France 29-0 on Saturday to become the first nation to win back-to-back Rugby World Cup Sevens titles.
The crowd at AT&T Park in San Francisco were then treated to the Black Ferns Sevens’ spine-tingling haka in celebration of a fifth title in as many sevens events after success at the Commonwealth Games and the final three rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
New Zealand, who had ended the hopes of host nation USA in the semi-finals, enjoyed the perfect start when Michaela Blyde raced away for her seventh try of the tournament after some good work by Tyla Nathan-Wong.
Their second try came midway through the first half after they turned defence into attack from deep in their own half with a charging run from captain Sarah Goss and calmness from her team-mates to recycle the ball and create the space for Portia Woodman to run in her sixth try in 2018 and 18th in RWC Sevens history.
Nathan-Wong crossed for a third try to make it 15-0 at half-time and put the Black Ferns Sevens on the verge of repeating their victory in Moscow in 2013.
France were unable to find a way through the resolute New Zealand defence and it was left to Blyde to score two quick-fire tries to put the finishing touch on their 27th consecutive victory and pull clear of USA speedster Naya Tapper in the race for the HSBC Top Try Scorer award.
Goss, one of four players to be part of New Zealand’s two RWC Sevens successes, said: “It doesn’t get any better. I’m so grateful to be here and for a performance like that and for Michaela Blyde to stand up like that. It’s an amazing day. France are a quality team and for them not to score against us is a proud effort from the sisters.
“We had one goal and that was to take the trophy back and I can’t wait to go home and show it to the New Zealand public.”
New Zealand captain Goss received the UL Mark of Excellence award before lifting the coveted trophy, while France’s Anne Cecile Ciofani was named the TUDOR Women’s Breakthrough Player of the Tournament accolade after impressing in her first RWC Sevens and scoring the last-gasp winning try against Australia in the semi-finals.
World series champions Australia bounced back from their last-gasp loss to France in the semi-finals to claim the bronze medal with a 24-14 victory over USA. Evania Pelite and Cassie Staples gave Australia the perfect start but two tries from Tapper kept the hosts in the hunt to repeat their bronze of Moscow 2013.
Ellia Green, though, also scored twice, one of them collecting a sublime cross-field kick from Charlotte Caslick in diving over the line.
Spain claimed fifth place with a narrow 12-7 win over Ireland, who were already guaranteed their best-ever finish in RWC Sevens history after beating Russia earlier in the day with 2013 runners-up Canada having to settle for seventh after beating the same opponents.
England, meanwhile, won the Challenge competition to claim ninth place overall with a 29-5 defeat of Japan in the final.
France had earlier stunned Olympic champions Australia to reach their first final, Ciofani accelerating around the outside to secure break the deadlock with the final play and secure a 19-12 victory.
The French men had stunned Australia in the round of 16 on Friday and the women completed the double, although they had to do it the hard way having trailed 12-0 after Pelite scored off a textbook show-and-go and Green exploited the extra space in Les Bleues’ defence with Marjorie Mayans in the sin-bin.
France seized their chance, captain Fanny Horta diving over by the posts to give Montserrat Amedee a straightforward conversion to tie the scores at 12-12 with a minute to play. Extra-time seemed on the cards for the first time at AT&T Park until Ciofani became France’s hero of the hour to end Australia’s hopes of a second RWC Sevens crown after winning the inaugural women’s event in 2009.
The second semi-final was just as dramatic and had fans on the edge of their seats throughout as New Zealand were pushed all the way by hosts USA, the difference between the sides ultimately being the clinical finish of the defending champions.
Blyde opened the scoring for the Black Ferns Sevens but USA hit back, delighting the home crowd with a brace from Tapper, both tries impressively converted from the touchline by captain Nicole Heavirland, to lead 14-7.
Tries either side of half-time through Ruby Tui and Gayle Broughton, the latter bursting through the defence to run in from deep in her own half, put the Black Ferns Sevens ahead again and their big-match experience ultimately told, Goss creating an opportunity for Woodman to score a fourth try.
USA had the final say with Lauren Doyle put through under the posts with time up on the clock, but it was New Zealand celebrating a third successive final appearance on the RWC Sevens stage.
The teams battled for ninth to 16th places had already provided plenty of drama before the Championship semi-finals with Japan captain Chiharu Nakamura scoring with time up to snatch a 15-14 victory over Fiji and set up a Challenge final showdown with England, the more comfortable 38-0 winners over China.
The final saw England start promisingly with Holly Aitchison scoring in the corner before captain Abbie Brown drove through the middle to create a 12-0 lead. Yume Hirano reduced Japan’s deficit before the interval only for England to dominate the second half, scoring 19 unanswered points and ensured that they finished their time in San Francisco with silverware.
In the other placing matches, Fiji proved too strong for China with Raijieli Daveua scoring twice in a 38-0 win for 11th place, while Beatriz Futuro Muhlbauer bowed out after 14 years in the national team and three RWC Sevens on a winning note after Brazil’s 22-0 defeat of South Africa for 13th. There was also cause for Papua New Guinea to celebrate after two tries from Gemma Schnaubelt saw them power past Mexico 32-0 to record their first ever RWC Sevens victory.