New Zealand sit proudly atop the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series table after three tournaments as the Black Ferns Sevens put in a consistent display over the course of two days to win the USA Sevens in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Keeping possession and maintaining patience and discipline was the game plan for Sarah Goss’ team after the disappointment of failing to make the final at the last tournament in Sydney.
That patience and refusal to give up the ball inevitably led to gaps appearing in tiring opposition defences and that’s when they struck.
The pace and power of Portia Woodman, Michaela Blyde, Niall Williams, player of the final Ruby Tui and others were too much for most teams to handle.
In that final, New Zealand never looked in trouble against Olympic champions Australia, racking up a 28-0 lead before Mahalia Murphy responded with a consolation try for the Aussies to make the final score 28-5. Meanwhile, Woodman, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Tui and Alena Faalogoifo Saili had already put the Black Ferns Sevens out of sight.
Afterwards, a beaming Woodman said: “We came second in the Olympics to Australia so to beat them now in two finals this season, in Dubai and again tonight, is kind of bitter-sweet.
"But we are delighted with this win, we’re going to enjoy it and then look ahead to the next tournament and see how we go from there.”
Woodman changed position in Las Vegas this week, moving into the forwards allowing Blyde to operate a wider role in the team. It’s a change that went down well with the 25-year-old.
She said: “It’s very different playing in the forwards – you don’t score as many tries. But I love it. I love being in the scrum and the lineout. I’d love to stay there and probably will with Michaela playing as well as she is.”
Meanwhile, in the bronze final, Canada won the battle of North America, beating USA 31-7 much to the disappointment of around 30,000 home fans packed into Sam Boyd Stadium for the two-day party that is the USA Sevens in Sin City.
Captain Ghislaine Landry became the all-time series leading points-scorer this weekend and the first to pass the 700-point mark, overtaking Woodman in the process.
In another solid performance after winning the cup in Sydney, she was well supported by Britt Benn, who scored six tries, Breanne Nicholas, Kayla Moleschi and the ever-dependable Jen Kish. Earlier, New Zealand defeated USA in the second semi-final.
America started brightly with an early score from Kristen Thomas and a generally robust display from Alev Kelter. But New Zealand were hungry for this and despite the baying Las Vegas crowd, Blyde and Williams crossed the whitewash to secure a 12-7 win for the Black Ferns Sevens.
Just before that Australia exacted revenge over Canada in the semi-final after Landry’s team had beaten them in their own backyard of Sydney at the same stage in February. Two tries apiece from Ellia Green and replacement Emma Tonegato overturned an early Canada lead and set up that trans-Tasman final with the Kiwis.
Earlier, in the last eight, Canada had put France to the sword, easing into the semi-finals with a 33-0 win as Landry carried over her form from Friday with a brace of tries, including a solo effort featuring a chip over the defence, effortless regather and dot down under the posts.
Australia beat Fiji 22-7 and USA safely negotiated a tricky encounter over the improving Ireland, finally coming out on top 20-12. New Zealand looked impressive against Russia, running in tries from Woodman, Tui and two from Blyde for a 26-5 win.
Patricia Garcia’s Spain won the Challenge Trophy, beating England 10-0 in the final. Now half-way through the series, attentions will shift to Kitakyushu, Japan, for the fourth round from 22-23 April.
New Zealand are definitely the form team at the moment but with teams like Fiji, Ireland, Spain and Russia putting more and more pressure on the top teams, they know they will be pushed every inch of the way.
Australia 5-28 New Zealand
Fifth place play-off
Fiji 19-17 Russia
Seventh place play-off
France 15-5 Ireland
USA 7-12 New Zealand
Canada 17-26 Australia
Fifth place semi-finals
Ireland 5-20 Russia
France 12-15 Fiji
Challenge Trophy Final
England 0-10 Spain
11th place play-off
Argentina 0-41 Brazil
New Zealand 26-5 Russia
USA 20-12 Ireland
Fiji 7-22 Australia
Canada 33-0 France
Challenge Trophy semi-finals
Spain 19-7 Brazil
Eng 45-7 Argentina
With thanks to World Rugby