Paris Sevens Day One: Aussie girls unbeaten in testing pool stage
Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby
Phase One of the Australian Women’s Sevens task in Paris is complete, with three successive victories leaving them top of Pool B as they chase a second World Series title.
It wasn’t all plain-sailing, with their three opponents on the opening day of competition in the City of Lights determined to make the Aussies work for every point. Fiji were overcome 24-10, Russia took them to the wire before being edged out 24-20, and Canada had their moments despite going down 31-14. As a result, they will meet Fiji again in tomorrow’s Quarter-Final.
“It was a really hard day’s footy, it was probably the hardest pool round we’ve had all series,” said newly appointed head coach John Manenti.
“I think we did things well in all three games, and we improved things in all three games. The challenge is to keep improving as the tournament goes on and keep getting better and I think we saw that today. I’m really pleased we rolled our sleeves up and did the work.
“All the action happens tomorrow, we want to win the tournament and obviously if we do that the World Series will look after itself.”
Dom Du Toit got the Aussies underway after a tense opening in the clash with Fiji, only for their opponents to hit back almost immediately when Miriama Naiobasali found a gap and ran home.
Cassie Staples scored with her first touch after coming on as a replacement to restore Australia’s lead, and when a terrific long pass from Emma Sykes put Du Toit away for her second, the tide was turning very much the way of the series leaders.
Co-captain Charlotte Caslick produced some trademark magic to cement the victory, and despite a late score from Merewai Cumu for the Fijians, the 24-10 final score was a pretty decent way for the Aussies to kick-off their campaign.
Next up were Russia, who came into their second game of the day off the back of a comprehensive loss to Canada. But it was the Aussies who opened the scoring, Emilee Cherry with a neat step to carve a path to the line.
Russia hit back through their skipper Alena Mikhaltsova, only for Caslick and Yasmin Meakes to go in at the other end and open up a healthy 19-5 lead at half-time. That was quickly eaten into after the restart when Baizat Khamidova crossed the chalk for the Russians. But when Demi Hayes found the corner shortly after to make it 24-10 following great work from Emma Tonegato, the result appeared to be in the bag.
However, two tries in as many minutes from Elena Zdrokova ensured a nervy ending to the contest, with four points separating the two sides and just one play left to decide it. Thankfully for the Aussies, they secured possession from the kick-off and Page McGregor sent the ball to the stands to see out win number two.
That just left Canada in the final encounter of the day, and the match took on even greater significance as it would decide who topped Pool B and earned – theoretically – an easier Quarter-Final. But the Aussie girls had saved their best until last, and a tidy team try finished off by Emma Tonegato, and a double from speedster Emma Sykes, had them firmly in control 19-0 at the break.
Tonegato claimed her own double shortly after the restart following good work from Emilee Cherry, before Canada finally came to the party with a five-pointer of their own from Charity Williams. They were afforded the chance to make further inroads into the deficit when Emma Sykes went to the sin bin for Australia. But a devastating run from Tonegato broke the Canadian defence open again, and Dom Du Toit finished it off to rubber stamp win number three.
Canada had the final say when Sara Kaljuvee grabbed a consolation, but the 31-14 result left Australia sitting pretty at the top of Pool B. Next up, another meeting with Fiji for a spot in the semis, but with New Zealand also topping their group to set up a Quarter Final match with Spain, there is plenty of work still to do if that prized World Series title is to be claimed.
Australia v Fiji at 12.30am AEST on Sunday 10 June on FoxSports
Australia 24-10 Fiji
Tries: Dom Du Toit 2, Cassie Staples, Charlotte Caslick
Cons: Emma Sykes 2
Australia 24-20 Russia
Tries: Emilee Cherry, Charlotte Caslick, Yasmin Meakes, Demi Hayes
Cons: Emma Sykes 2
Australia 31-14 Canada
Tries: Emma Tonegato 2, Emma Sykes 2, Dom Du Toit
Cons: Emma Sykes 2, Emilee Cherry