New Zealand retained their grip on the HSBC Canada Women’s Sevens title – their third in a row at Westhills Stadium – after a hard-fought 21-17 victory over Australia in the Cup final in Langford on Sunday.
The victory meant the Black Ferns Sevens had two reasons to celebrate on the day as by reaching the Cup semi-finals they had confirmed their place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games via a top four finish in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2019, their 17-7 victory over Spain giving them an unassailable lead over fifth-placed France in the standings with only one round remaining.
New Zealand now lead the standings with 92 points after their fourth title in five rounds, followed by USA (80), Canada (78) and Australia (74) with France now 14 points adrift of a coveted top four spot.
The trans-Tasman rivalry has been the most common final on the women’s series with this the 15th occurrence in 36 tournaments, but it was in complete contrast to the 2018 final when New Zealand blew Australia away with a sublime display of attacking rugby to win 46-0.
Australia haven’t beaten New Zealand since the Sydney final in 2018, but they opened the scoring when Ellia Green got away from Michaela Blyde and the covering Tyla Nathan-Wong to score in the left corner.
The Black Ferns Sevens hit back when teenager Dhys Faleafaga shrugged off a tackle and flicked a pass over her shoulder to her captain Sarah Hirini, who coasted over with little resistance from Australia. Their second try was similar with Nathan-Wong drawing Charlotte Caslick before offloading to Niall Williams to cut through the gap and run under the posts for a 14-5 lead with a minute to play in the first half.
That was enough time, though, for Australia to respond as Alicia Quirk and Caslick combined well down the left before the latter had Emma Tonegato in support to finish off the move and cut the deficit to four at the break and keep the crowd on the edge of their seats.
New Zealand increased that lead when Hirini offloaded to Nathan-Wong, who handed off Emma Sykes to run under the posts to give herself an easy conversion, but Australia kept pushing for a way back into the game with Green intercepting Williams’ long pass to grab her second of the final with barely 30 seconds to go. The restart was adjudged to have been knocked forward, though, and from the resulting scrum Kelly Brazier kicked the ball out to start the celebrations.
“That was a tough final – we knew it was going to be tough coming up against Australia,” admitted Nathan-Wong, who was named HSBC Player of the Final for the second time this season. “Both teams came out hot, we worked hard and I’m proud of the girls going out there and executing our game plan, working hard for each other and leaving it all out there.
“Last year we put a pretty high score on Australia and we knew they wouldn’t let us get away with it again and they didn’t, so credit to them for coming out here and really working us – they scored some pretty good and long range tries but full credit to our girls for hanging in tough until the very end.
“It’s pretty fantastic to know that we’ve qualified our country for the Olympics especially as there’s only one tournament left. We’re going to want to work hard over these next few weeks, build towards our last tournament in France and hopefully go out there and put on another good show.”
Australia captain Sharni Williams said: “It was difficult but we definitely went out there and gave everything we had. We haven’t made a final since Sydney so that was good confidence for us getting back out there and getting into the final. We were a lot more physical than we have ever been and I’m very proud of the girls.”
The final tournament on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series takes place in Biarritz, France on 15-16 June.