Sydney Sevens Day Two: Aussie Women into semis after French tussle
Photo: J.B Photography
The Australian Women’s Sevens side are through to the final four in Sydney, after a nail-biting 21-17 victory over France in today’s Quarter-Final left them two wins away from defending the crown they won so memorably last year.
They led 14-0 at one point in the first half, before Les Bleus rallied hard and took the game to the wire, with both sides crossing three times and only the accurate boot of Emma Sykes the difference as she racked up three conversions. Ellia Green was a standout in defence with several bell-ringing hits to thwart the French attack, meaning the reigning champions will now take on a record-breaking Ireland side who have reached their first ever semi-final on the World Series.
“I feel relieved, very much so,” admitted head coach John Manenti at the final whistle. “France are a quality side and they have been playing well. They are tough and they match up really well against us.
“The conditions weren’t perfect for what we’re trying to do but really happy to get through that. It’s really important from a qualification point of view to try and put some space between us and France who are in the chasing pack, and now we’re at least two points ahead of them.”
Australia had beaten France in all 19 matches they have played in the World Series, but the spectre of last year’s World Cup semi-final defeat at the hands of Les Bleus made them more than mindful of the challenge ahead.
Ellia Green set the tone for the defensive effort that was going to be required when she launched out of the line to dismantle a French attacker in the opening minute, before captain Sharni Williams backed her up with a determined tackle that dragged another blue jersey into touch.
France were happy to meet fire with fire however, and with a physical presence at the breakdown they continued to make some early inroads, a quick tap and surge for the line only thwarted by some sterling work over the ball from Evania Pelite. But when Les Bleus came unstuck from their next attack and the ball ran loose, Pelite and Sariah Paki combined to open the door for Emma Sykes to run in the opener for the home side.
The hits were coming thick and fast, the industrious Paki floored from behind as she gathered an overthrow from France at the lineout. But when the ball was sent to the opposite flank for the recently introduced Emma Tonegato, the Olympic champion dusted her marker to release Williams, and the skipper showed she has flair as well industry by twisting and turning her way through three defenders to go under the posts.
14-0 and so far, so good. But just as the Aussies looked set to keep a donut on the French side of the scoreboard at half-time, they conceded. A jinking run from the tricky Shannon Izar fractured the green and gold line, and Carla Neissen was in support with enough strength to power over in the tackle.
A scrappy start to the second half saw both sides turning over cheap possession and struggling for cohesion in their play. But another loose carry from the French, under pressure from Alicia Quirk, allowed the all-action Olympian to scoop up and put Lily Dick away down the sideline, and the teenager carved a path inside for a third.
Two absolute wrecking ball hits in quick succession from Green then forced the French backwards as they looked to create an opening, the Aussies upping their linespeed and intensity as they sniffed a place in the final four. But with both teams beginning to run on empty, Les Bleus found a gap out wide for Anne Cecile Ciofani to find the chalk and reduce the deficit to 21-10 with two minutes remaining.
The clock wasn’t ticking down fast enough for a home side grimly hanging onto their advantage, and things got even more nervy for the local and vocal support inside Spotless Stadium, when Valentine Lothoz pounced off a quick tap to sidestep Sam Treherne, and just about dot down despite a valiant effort from Tonegato to hold her up.
Just four points separated the sides now, and quite how relieved the Aussies were – both on the field and in the crowd – to see Joanna Grisez shown a yellow card for a deliberate knockdown, cannot be underestimated. The siren sounded, the ball was duly smashed into touch, and an intriguing and testing challenge against a pumped up Ireland side awaits in the morning.
“It’s my time to be a senior player and I’m enjoying being the best role model that I can be to the junior players,” said Ellia Green after her standout performance. “It means everything (to win in Sydney), not only being our home tournament but also our Olympic Qualifying year and just playing in front of the Australian crowd. They are our friends, our family and our fans and they mean the world to us.
“The Irish are very physical, very talented and it’s going to be a battle again, so I’m looking forward to it.”
New Zealand will take on the USA in the other Cup semi-final.
WOMEN’S CUP SEMI-FINAL:
AUSTRALIA v IRELAND – 9.56am AEDT Sunday on FOX SPORTS
WOMEN’S CUP QUARTER-FINAL RESULT
AUSTRALIA 21 FRANCE 17
Tries: Emma Sykes, Sharni Williams, Lily Dick
Cons: Emma Sykes 3