KENNESAW, Ga. – The Women’s Eagles Sevens welcomed international rugby back to Georgia in style Saturday with a 36-5 defeat of South Africa in their first match of Atlanta 7s at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University.
The Eagles’ all-time leading points leader, Victoria Folayan, recorded a first-half hat trick and Kate Zackary honored her debut with the team’s final try in the opening win of the third leg of the 2014-15 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
Joanne Fa’avesi snagged the kickoff for U.S. possession straight away, and it was barely a minute before Folayan streaked away from her opposite number at midfield for the opening score. Alev Kelter brought the Eagles to their own 10 with a charging run up the middle and Jessica Javelet gained midfield, then Akalaini Baravilala made the final assist to Folayan. Baravilala was also responsible for the conversion, which was kicked successfully for a 7-0 lead.
The Springbok Women managed to hold possession for a few phases following the restart, but a forward pass was called just inside their own half. The Eagles won the scrum and a nifty switch pass from Javelet opened a hole for Folayan’s second try. Baravilala put the conversion through the uprights for a perfect, 14-0, start.
South Africa nearly struck back within a minute of the kickoff with Zenay Jordaan stepping through the defensive line. Javelet, in the sweeper’s position, kept up with the opposition’s captain and made the tackle. The Eagles turned over possession moments later and extended the lead in spectacular fashion.
Baravilala was taken down at midfield and the ball flung out to Folayan in almost the exact spot from which she scored her two previous tries. The speedster went into contact against three defenders but managed to spin away from each to run, unopposed, into the try zone for a 21-0 lead.
Javelet capped the half with a try after the Eagles won a penalty inside South Africa’s 22. Kelly Griffin took the quick tap and the ball went through her hands to Baravilala, then to the try-scorer. The Eagles led at the half, 26-0.
Eagles Head Coach Ric Suggitt gave his charges a moment to collect themselves after a blistering start to the match before joining the half-time team talk. With Russia nearly causing an upset against New Zealand in Pool A’s first match of the day, it was important the Eagles took care of their own business.
“I think you need to score first and – if you don’t – don’t panic,” Suggitt said of the first half after the match. “I think the girls did a good job with that. They didn’t panic. We had a couple moments where we got ‘Harry Caray,’ but more often than not they showed good composure.”
The second half did not begin in the same way as the first for the Eagles, as South Africa pushed forward through each phase towards the U.S.’s try zone. Javelet could not keep Mathrin Simmers from scoring in the corner in the ninth minute, but the tough-angled conversion was well wide to keep the Eagles in command at 26-5.
Suggitt inserted some fresh legs into the match beginning in the 11th minute with Zackary making her Women’s Sevens Series debut. Lauren Doyle and Kristen Thomas also took to the pitch, and the AIG Women’s Collegiate All-American from the University of Central Florida wasted no time in getting her team back on the board.
The Eagles won their own scrum deep in their half and immediately sent the ball wide to the substitute, who ran around one defender and more than 80 meters of the pitch to dot down in-goal. Kathryn Johnson’s conversion from in front of the posts bounced back at her, but the Eagles’ lead was intact at 31-5.
“The start of the second half is always a concern, right? When you get a little bit of a lead you can’t let your foot off the gas pedal and we did,” Suggitt said. “Credit to the girls who started the game with a pretty good tempo. Then, when Kristen [Thomas] came in – that’s her job, to score tries like Victoria. Give them the ball and let them take off and run. It’s a great one-two punch to have right now.”
A great team try finished the match off for the Eagles, who are playing in front of a home crowd this weekend in Atlanta. Doyle used Thomas as a decoy inside South Africa’s 10 to gain a few extra meters. The U.S. kept possession and a Johnson ran down the touch line alongside a couple of defenders. She fended one tackler and stayed in bounds before offloading to the onrushing Zackary for the debutants first career try.
With Thomas and Zackary each making their Series debuts in back-to-back tournaments, Baravilala fitting in seamlessly after two years away from the team, and veteran Folayan adding three tries for the Eagles, Suggitt’s side threatened South Africa across the pitch.
“We’re getting there,” Suggitt said. “I still think we’re a couple months short of where we should have been. I thought we’d be at this stage probably [in São Paulo]. Credit to the team; they’ve buckled down and have done a really good job. They’re a fun team to watch play sevens.”
New Zealand’s close call against Russia puts the Eagles atop Pool A with a superior, plus-31 point differential. The U.S. will continue its Atlanta 7s campaign against Russia at 4:34 p.m. ET. Watch Atlanta 7s live on World Rugby’s Women’s Sevens World Series website and follow match updates from Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University on Twitter with @USARugby.
Women’s Eagles Sevens | v. South Africa
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
South Africa | v. USA
1. Siviwe Basweni
2. Rachelle Geldenhuys
3. Sunelle Barnard
4. Fundiswa Plaatjie
5. Zenay Jordaan
6. Zaandre Theron
7. Phumeza Gadu
8. Nosiphiwo Goda
9. Sinazo Nobele
10. Mathrin Simmers
11. Hackie Kriel
12. Marithay Pienaar
Women’s Eagles Sevens | 36
Tries: Folayan (3), Javelet, Thomas, Zackary
Conversions: Baravilala (3),
South Africa | 5
Women’s Eagles Sevens | Atlanta 7s
v South Africa – W 36-5
v Russia – Saturday, March 14 – 4:34 p.m. ET
v New Zealand – Saturday, March 14 – 6:56 p.m. ET