KENNESAW, Ga. – The Women’s Eagles Sevens knocked the second-ranked team in the 2014-15 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series standings – Australia – out of the Cup round with a 10-5 victory in the Atlanta 7s Cup Quarterfinal Sunday.
Kathryn Johnson and Kristen Thomas scored the Eagles’ tries in front of a cheering crowd wearing red, white, and blue at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University, where the U.S. will play Russia a second time in as many days in the Cup Semifinal.
The match began swimmingly for the Australians, who took a lead within seconds of the kickoff. Chloe Dalton’s kick bounced directly behind the 10-meter line and backwards, over the head of Alev Kelter. Australia got ahold of the ball and the second pass found Emilee Cherry, who made Joanne Fa’avesi miss for the opening score.
The unsuccessful conversion kept the lead to 5-0, and the match was just as tight for the remaining 13 minutes. While tight, penalties and physical encounters in the breakdowns forced stoppages throughout the match.
Australian momentum was halted in the third minute with what seemed to be a break along the touch line ended due to a forward pass. Fa’avesi helped the Eagles gain midfield following the turnover with a charging run through a defender, but their own attack was taken into touch for a turnover.
Lauren Doyle and Bui Baravilala kept Cherry from doubling her try-scoring tally in the fifth minute by chasing down last season’s Player of the Year and taking her into touch. The U.S. was awarded a scrum as opposed to a lineout and kept the ball through phases and Australian penalties. One such penalty within 20 meters of the try line forced the referee to show a yellow card to Dalton.
Baravilala took the quick tap from the stoppage and flipped a pass to Johnson, who only needed a dummy pass and a cut to the inside to outsmart her defender into the try zone. Baravilala’s conversion missed over the left post by inches, keeping the match level at 5-5.
Doyle made a try-saving tackle to end the half with a long chase on Cherry once again, drawing praise from Eagles Head Coach Ric Suggitt.
“Doyle was superb chasing back and had some good line breaks that got us going forward,” he said following the match. “We’re pretty proud of her performance today [after not getting] many minutes [Saturday].”
Neither team had taken hold of the match, shown by the score and intensity of the half-time team talks.
The battle continued in the second half with the Eagles’ restart. Johnson nearly knocked it backwards to a teammate but it traveled forward for a scrum. Doyle again used her pace and composure to make a lung-busting tackle to cut Charlotte Caslick’s run short at the Eagles’ 22.
The two teams traded possession until the 12th minute, in which the Eagles steadily made their way deeper and deeper into Australia’s half. While penalties against their opposition helped, the Eagles did well to not run away from support and keep hold of the ball in the tackle.
The Eagles turned over possession with a penalty 15 meters from the try line in the 13th minute, and the referee was forced to take time off of the clock for injuries and tired bodies on the field. Thomas was one of the substitutions made, while Australia lost two players to injury.
The second-ranked team played patient rugby in the final minute of the match, and Sharni Williams pushed Folayan over with ball in hand before her team coughed up possession with a dropped pass.
Doyle drew a penalty at Australia’s 10 to set up the Eagles’ attack and later in the play broke a tackle for a few extra meters, which proved crucial. The ball was swung wide to Thomas, who tucked it away and dotted down in the corner for the match-winning try.
The 10-5 victory ensures a top-four finish for the Eagles, a goal the team preaches prior to each tournament.
“On any given day I think Australia and New Zealand are one-two or two-one,” Suggitt said. “We’re happy to get that victory. That’s a quality team the girls beat. It gets us into the top four.
“[Fa’avesi], again, had a remarkable performance. She missed an early tackle on a short kickoff but we bounced back. Yesterday we didn’t bounce back. Today they started to show their real character, that they will bounce back; they can dust off those little mishaps and jump back into the game.”
Russia blanked England, 24-0, in the final Quarterfinal Sunday, setting up a rematch of Saturday’s Pool A encounter. The Eagles defeated the Russians, 19-12, to qualify for the Cup round as a second-place pool finisher, while Russia was one of the two third-place qualifiers.
Entrance into the Cup Semifinal ensures the Eagles gain at least 14 points in the Series standings, though a possible 20 could be won.
“We can’t get carried away,” Suggitt said. “We still have lots of work to do. It’s only one win. I let them go [after the match] and let them enjoy the moment, then we’ll carry on.”
New Zealand will play Canada in the other Cup Semifinal to determine the Eagles’ final opponent of Atlanta 7s. The Cup Semifinal between the U.S. and Russia is scheduled to kick off at 4:12 p.m. ET. Atlanta 7s can be followed live on Twitter with updates from @USARugby and viewed live online on World Rugby’s website.
Women’s Eagles Sevens | v. Australia
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
Australia | v. USA
1. Shannon Parry
2. Sharni Williams
3. Tiana Penitani
4. Brooke Walker
5. Emma Tonegato
6. Evania Pelite
7. Charlotte Caslick
8. Chloe Dalton
9. Amy Turner
10. Alicia Quirk
11. Emilee Cherry
12. Ellia Green
Women’s Eagles Sevens | 10
Tries: Johnson, Thomas
Australia | 5
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
v Russia – Sunday, March 15 – 4:12 p.m. ET