Paris Sevens Day Two: Aussies claim series crown with game to spare
Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby
It’s huge congratulations to the Australian Women’s Sevens team and staff after they ensured a second ever World Series title with another unbeaten day in Paris, and a place in tomorrow’s Cup Final against New Zealand.
They earned the title the hard way, coming from behind against both Fiji (22-19) in the Quarter-Final, and France (21-17) in the Semi-Final, with late tries from Emilee Cherry needed on both occasions. That was enough to put them out of reach of the kiwis on the overall points standings, irrespective of the result in the event decider.
With a buffer of four points, a loss to their trans-Tasman rivals can only narrow the gap by two. But you can be sure this latest incarnation of the ‘golden girls’ will want to go out on a high with victory, and to assert their authority ahead of next month’s World Cup in San Francisco.
“It was a hard-fought match there, sorry to everyone at home for putting you on the edge of your couches,” joked co-captain Shannon Parry after the semi-final. “It’s 5:30am at home but we did it for all our squad members back home and for everyone that’s been on this journey with us this year.
“There was a lot of pressure coming into that match, we just got through in a nail-biter against Fiji and then to win it with the last play was a fantastic effort from the girls. I guess it’s a short-lived celebration for us tonight because we want to take away that title tomorrow.”
Having defeated Fiji 24-10 in their opening pool match the previous day, they would have gone into the Quarter-Final fairly confident of a repeat performance. But an early sin bin for star turn Charlotte Caslick following a high tackle got them off on the wrong foot, and the Fijians didn’t need a second invitation to pounce, Miriama Naiobasali crossing in the corner after sustained possession.
Up stepped Shannon Parry, joining the fray from the bench and making her presence felt straight away with a determined run up the middle to lay the platform for her returning co-captain Caslick to level the scoreboard. But Fiji came again, Pricilla Sauvavi Siata dotting down to leave Australia behind 12-5 at the break.
That was soon 12-10 when a terrific team try involving Emilee Cherry and the ubiquitous Caslick was finished off by Dom Du Toit. But Fiji were in no mood to capitulate as the Aussies ramped up the pressure, and a third try from Merewai Cumu – taking advantage of a lineout error – had them in the box seat with a two-score advantage and just two minutes left on the clock.
However, you doubt this group of champions at your peril, and just as their title dreams seemed to be fading away, they found something in their lockers to turn it around in dramatic fashion. Unsurprisingly it was Caslick leading the charge, a wonderful floated pass cutting out the Fijian defence and opening the door for Du Toit to race home for her second.
And showing supreme patience, intelligence and calmness under pressure, they duly regathered their own kick-off, built phases to stress the Fijian line, and when they finally worked a gap, it was Cherry going through to snatch a 22-19 victory from the jaws of defeat.
That left them knowing that a win over hosts France in the semi-final would give them the World Series title with one game to spare. But if the Fijian game had tested their supporter’s nerves, this clash would have left fingernails chewed to the bone.
The French – buoyed by a swelling home crowd at the Stade Jean Bouin – began confidently, dominating possession and testing the green and gold line. But the Aussies didn’t buckle, and having soaked up all the pressure they struck clinically from a French error, Du Toit maintaining her scoring spree with the first five-pointer.
Things seemed to be going perfectly to plan when Emilee Cherry grabbed a second shortly after, punishing some slack French marking out wide to cross the chalk and open up a 14-0 lead at half-time. But the French came out with the bit between their teeth for the second half, captain Fanny Horta capitalising on a turnover to show the way for her team mates with a powerful surge to the line. And they were in again straight from the restart, Majone Mayans with some neat footwork to bamboozle the Australian defence and make it 14-12.
Things appeared to be unravelling fast for the champions-elect, a high shot from Evania Pelite sending her to the sideline for two minutes and leaving Australia vulnerable to a suddenly buoyant French team and baying crowd. Those fears were confirmed when France went for the throat and Chloe Pelle bagged a third to put them in front 17-14, and with time running out, the series looked to be heading out of Australia’s grasp and into that of New Zealand.
But once again they found something when it truly mattered. Just 30 seconds remained when the often-unheralded work of Emma Tonegato came to the fore, the Olympic gold medallist bravely throwing herself into a ruck and earning a penalty, before taking a quick tap and finding Du Toit. She ran straight and true before offloading to the supporting Cherry with a peach of a pass, and the free-scoring centre scorched away for 40 metres to win the game – and the World Series title – after the bell.
What a play, what a game, what a team. Congratulations ladies, you are once again the best in the world!
Australia v New Zealand at 1.30am AEST on Monday 11th June on FoxSports
For a round-up of Australia’s victories over Fiji, Russia and Canada on Day One, please click here:
Paris Sevens Day One: Aussie girls unbeaten in testing pool stage
Australia 22-19 Fiji
Tries: Dom Du Toit 2, Charlotte Caslick, Emilee Cherry
Cons: Emma Sykes
Australia 21-17 France
Tries: Emilee Cherry 2, Dom Du Toit
Cons: Emma Sykes 3