The “Curse Of The Host Team” struck again on finals day in Sydney Sevens as Canada and the United States overturned the script, while Australia finished outside the medals.
Photo: Michael Lee @ KRC Photos
The home field continues to offer no advantage to host teams (unless they are American). Being World and Olympic Champions made no difference this weekend and it remains a remarkable fact that, in the four-year history of the World Series, no host team - other than the United States - have ever reached a final.
For most of the two days in Sydney it looked like Australia were going to beat the curse. Unbeaten and little troubled on Day One, the host team saw off Fiji in their quarter-final comfortably, as expected, 17-5.
That semi-final saw them up against Canada, who had been well beaten by New Zealand on Day one but had proved too strong for Russia in the quarters.
Canada often save their best for end of tournaments – last year in Clermont they spectacularly upset the Australians in the final, so the home team will have known what to expect. Ella Green opened the scoring for Australia after for minutes, but tries from Jen Kish and Brittany Benn put Canada 12-7 up at the break.
And that was the final score. Canada absorbed everything Australia could throw at them, silenced the big, expectant Sydney crowd, and put them in the final.
If having Canada in the final was a small surprise, it was nothing compared to their opponents. The United States went from 11th place in Dubai to win their pool on day one in Sydney, squeeze through their quarter against Ireland, before coming up against the Black Ferns in the semi-finals.
It was a daunting prospect as the Ferns had been on good form all weekend. Apart from a couple of scares against France, New Zealand were looking good, especially after they had blown away the USA’s northern neighbours 31-5 on Day One.
But the USA had found a new weapon in Naya Tapper – it was her tries that had, in the end, been the difference against Ireland. With Lev Kelter, who was also having a great weekend, the USA were reborn from their Dubai experience.
And it was Kelter and Tapper who combined to sweep the United States into a 19-0 lead with just four minutes to go. The Ferns now fought back with tries from Whata-Simpkins and Nathan-Wong to set up a frantic final play – but the USA held out to make the final.
While Sydney was a happy hunting ground for North America, for Europe it was a weekend to forget. On day two, apart from England and Spain’s wins over guest team Papua in the Challenge Trophy, European teams lost every game against non-European opposition. As a result Ireland’s great opening day crashed down with three loses on day two to finish 8th, Russia did little better to finish 7th, and France were beaten by Fiji for 6th.
Papua New Guinea finished 12th, but displayed a star player in the shape of Joana Lagona, whose nine tries and 49 points made her the weekend’s highest scorer – a truly remarkable performance, considering not only that her team did not win a game, but also that she only played five games compared to the second placed name in the list – USA’s Naya Tapper’s – six.
The medal games began with a tense opening half between New Zealand and Australia finally broken with a Michaela Blyde try for the Ferns in the final seconds. The second half was all at the Australia end with Portia Woodman adding a second early on, before Blyde added a third after a great kick ahead by Whata-Simpkins – the big crowd reduced to a stunned silence.
And so to the all-North American final, which began with a try for Naya Tapper, exploding down the wing for the USA. But Canada were soon back on terms through Benn before Charity Williams ended the half under the posts to give Canada a 14-7 lead.
Tapper was back over the Canadian line 30 second into the second half, but this time the kick was missed. Bianca Farella’s try for Canada shortly after was converted, giving them a nine point lead, meaning that even Tapper’s hat-trick try on the final play was no enough to prevent Canada taking the title.
Quarter-finals: New Zealand 24-5 France; Ireland 5-17 United States; Australia 17-5 Fiji; Russia 5-26 Canada
Semi Finals: New Zealand 12-19 United States; Australia 7-12 Canada
Bronze Final: New Zealand 19-0 Australia
Cup Final: United States 17-21 Canada
Semi Finals, France 21-19 Ireland; Match 26 Fiji 33-19 Russia
7th Place Play-Off: Ireland 12-17 Russia
5th Place Play-Off: France 12-31 Fiji
Semi Finals: England 29-17 Papua New Guinea; Spain 7-10 Brazil
11th Place Play-Off: Papua New Guinea 17-31 Spain
Challenge Trophy Final: England 12-17 Brazil
Papua New Guinea