The formbook went out of the window this weekend at Kitakyushu.
Coaches and managers from around the series will be scratching their heads after this weekend’s remarkable round of the Women’s World Series in Kitakyushu.
As usual there were a few squad changes before the latest round of the compared to the previous round in Sydney. New Zealand left Blyde, Broughton and Whata-Simpkins at home, but there was still plenty of experience in the squad and certainly nothing to suspect that the Ferns would have their worst ever opening day in a World Series competition. Australia on paper looked even stronger than the team that reached the final at Sydney, but they too will want to perhaps forget their visit to Japan.
The first round of games gave no indication as to what was to come. New Zealand continued their year-long run of wins with a comfortable win over Japan, the United States recorded one of their biggest ever wins over the young England team (with four teenagers, the youngest in the tournament), Australia looked back on form with a big win over China, and Canada beat a spirited Spain. The top four were on expected form.
That things might be a bit different became clear at the start of the second round when England beat Ireland in a fixture that the Irish have dominated for past year, and which may become very important in the year ahead. And they did so by 31-0.
And then the Ferns met Russia in a ding-dong game, with Russia always ahead, but New Zealand coming back. A converted Zdrokova seemed to have given them the game, but there was just time for a restart from which New Zealand eventually scored. 17-17.
And so to the third round. First England went behind to Fiji – who had beaten them in the Sydney Challenge final – but England fought back to win. Next Ireland – against all form so far - lead most of the way against the United States, only for tries from Kirshe and Kelter to steal the game back.
Minutes later another tension-filled game saw Australia lead Canada 14-10 into the final minute – before Lukan scored the vital winner.
Then at the end of the day, France took on New Zealand for the 22nd time in the World Series, 26th time overall. On so many occasions France had been close – but not this time. 29-7 France won – five tries, and one of the Ferns biggest ever defeats to end the day with one win – their worst ever opening day in the World Series.
So often day 1 is no guide to day 2, but not here. Canada held off a Russian comeback in the opening game, before the USA continued where France had ended day 1, racing to a 19-5 lead shortly after the break. But New Zealand fought back to tie it at 19-19 thanks to a brace from Williams, before Kristi Kirshe scored the winner for the USA from the final play. The United States were into the last four again – the only team to reach every semi-final this season.
Next up England nearly whitewashed a near all-star Australia, Sykes getting a consolation at the end. With France beating Ireland we had a guaranteed Europe v North America final.
Last four, and Canada lead all the way to beat their greatest rivals, USA, 24-12. France then take on England, and take an early lead through Séraphine Okemba ending a great move started by Shannon Izar, but England soon tie it up and its 12-12 at half-time. A tense second half sees France go ahead with a great run from Anne-Cécile Ciofani. Then Abbie Brown spots a gap from inside her own 22 – and crucially Aitcheson converts for England to lead 19-17. Into the last minute, and a French lineout – but the throw is not straight, England win the resulting scrum and go from Challenge Final in Sydney to Cup Final in Kitakyushu.
Down to the first final to not feature an antipodean team. And its full of tension. Down to the end of the first half and there is no score, with England on the Canadian line. Emma Chown risks a chance for a turnover, but misses and leaves a gap for Amy Wilson Hardy. England lead 5-0 at half-time.
There is nothing between the team in the second half, with England looking to run down the clock. Into the last minute, England win a lineout and just need to keep possession, but with 10 second to go are called up for a forward pass. Canada win the scrum, keep possession and after two minutes of overtime Landry pulls the teams level – and converts to win the title for Canada.
It was a final that typified a thrilling weekend of games won and loss by tiny margins, but also where also small changes in squads may have had big differences in outcomes.
Where France are now just 10 points behind Australia for the fourth Olympic place. Surely France can’t catch them over the final two rounds? We’ll have to rewrite our Olympics expectations if they do!
Where England have gone from also-rans to being 10 seconds from title winners with the youngest team in the tournament – if they get to Tokyo and have another year together they could be medal contenders
But also where in the end experience and Ghislaine Landry made the difference for Canada.
Pool A: France 33-10 Russia; New Zealand 43-0 Japan; New Zealand 17-17 Russia; France 33-19 Japan; New Zealand 7-29 France; Russia 28-21 Japan
Pool B: Canada 26-17 Spain; Australia 47-0 China; Canada 42-19 China; Australia 36-5 Spain; Spain 31-26 China; Australia 14-17 Canada
Pool C: Ireland 31-10 Fiji; United States 43-7 England; Ireland 0-31 England; United States 31-5 Fiji; Fiji 15-35 England; United States 15-12 Ireland
Cup Quarter Finals: Canada 17-14 Russia; United States 26-19 New Zealand; Australia 7-21 England; France 19-0 Ireland
Challenge Trophy Semi Finals: Spain 12-5 China; Japan 17-28 Fiji
5th Place Semi Finals: Russia 0-36 New Zealand; Australia 29-7 Ireland
Cup Semi Finals: Canada 24-12 United States; England 19-17 France
11th Place Play-Off: China 7-0 Japan
Challenge Trophy: Final Spain 12-41 Fiji
7th Place Play-Off: Russia 14-15 Ireland
5th Place Play-Off: New Zealand 34-26 Australia
Bronze Final: United States 36-12 France
Cup Final: Canada 7-5 England
Australia: Sharni Williams; Charlotte Caslick; Ellia Green; Evania Pelite; Alicia Quirk; Emma Tonegato; Mahalia Murphy; Emma Sykes; Lily Dick; Yasmin Meakes; Sariah Paki; Samantha Treherne
Canada: Ghislaine Landry; Bianca Farella; Karen Paquin; Julia Greenshields; Kayla Moleschi; Charity Williams; Caroline Crossley; Breanne Nicholas; Emma Chown; Kaili Lukan; Keyara Wardley; Brittany Benn
China: Keyi Chen; Yang Yang; Liping Yu; Yaoyao Gu; Meiling Yan; Xiaoqian Liu; Hongting Ruan; Yu Hu; Yueying Gao; Sun Sun; Xu Yang; Xiao Wang
England: Alex Matthews; Abigail Brown; Megan Jones; Holly Aitchison; Celia Quansah; Helena Rowland; Emma Uren; Abigail Burton; Amy Wilson Hardy; Elizabeth Adam; Emma Hardy; Ellie Kildunne
Fiji: Rusila Nagasau; Ana Maria Roqica; Asinate Ufia Savu; Luisa Basei Tisolo; Raijieli Daveua; Merewalesi Rokouono; Ana Maria Naimasi; Vasiti Kuma Solikoviti; Tokasa Seniyasi; Paulini Korowaqa; Akanisi Sokoiwasa; Lavenia Tinai
France: Fanny Horta; Chloe Pelle; Shannon Izar; Carla Neisen; Mathilde Coutouly; Caroline Drouin; Grace Okemba; Coralie Bertrand; Anne Cecile Ciofani; Nassira Konde; Joanna Grisez; Marjorie Mayans
Ireland: Aoife Doyle; Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe; Hannah Tyrrell; Louise Galvin; Lucy Mulhall; Anna McGann; Eve Higgins; Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird; Brittany Hogan; Emily Lane; Megan Burns; Claire Boles
Japan: Yoko Suzuki; Riho Kurogi; Honoka Tsutsumi; Yuki Ito; Tomomi Kozasa; Yume Okuroda; Rinka Matsuda; Mele Yua Havili Kagawa; Yume Hirano; Iroha Nagata; Chisato Yokoo; Chiharu Nakamura
New Zealand: Shakira Baker; Sarah Hirini; Tyla Nathan-Wong; Tenika Willison; Stacey Waaka; Niall Williams; Terina Lily Te Tamaki; Rhiarna Rangi Ferris; Cheyelle Rachael Robins-Reti; Alena Faalogoifo Saili; Dhys Sepi Faleafaga; Ruby Tui
Russia: Alena Mikhaltsova; Baizat Khamidova; Marina Kukina; Kristina Seredina; Daria Lushina; Anna Gavrilyuk; Anna Baranchuk; Daria Shestakova; Elena Zdrokova; Snezhanna Kulkova; Iana Danilova; Daria Noritsina
Spain: Barbara Pla; Marina Bravo; Elisabet Martinez Garcia; Patricia Garcia; Iera Echebarria Fernandez; Amaia Erbina Arana; Ingrid Algar; Olivia Fresneda; Lide Erbina Araña; Beatriz Dominguez Sanchez; Paula Requena; Maria Losada
United States: Meya Bizer; Lauren Doyle; Alev Kelter; Joanne Fa'avesi; Kris Thomas; Nicole Heavirland; Naya Tapper; Kayla Canett-Oca; Jordan Gray-Matyas; Ilona Delsing Rosa Maher; Kristi Kirshe; Cheta Emba
1 NZL 72
2 CAN 66
3 USA 64
4 AUS 56
5 FRA 46
6 IRE 38
7 ENG 37
8 RUS 34
9 ESP 16
10 FIJ 13
11 CHN 10
12 JPN 1
13 KEN 1
14 PNG 1
15 MEX 1