At the end of a fascinating and at times wonderfully unpredictable two days, Australia and New Zealand played out yet another thrilling Dubai Sevens final where a great crowd at at 7he Sevens Stadium saw the Ferns exact revenge for their Olympic gold medal match loss in Rio, dominating their rivals to win 17-5.
Australia battled to the end of the now 14-minute final (after a rule change last month finals are no longer 20-minutes long), but tries from Portia Woodman and two from Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga saw the Ferns collect the gold medal and the Dubai Sevens Cup. Kelly Brazier, who came back into the team from 15s action last weekend, was named Player of the Final.
The win was especially sweet for new coach Allan Bunting, who said: "We're pretty stoked with that win. It's been a while since we got a win over Australia and I'm sure they'll go away and come back a lot stronger as a result of that match. We always go out to win but we're still learning a lot. Most importantly the girls went out and played with heart."
New Zealand playmaker Tyla Nathan-Wong added: "Honestly it's the best feeeling. This team is incredible ... I'm so proud of them. I can't wait for the next round because I'm loving this team.
"It was pretty hard losing to Australia in Rio but full credit to the girls today."
Australian Coach, Tim Walsh: “You can’t win games when you miss that many tackles. We had some good things through the tournament but that certainly wasn’t the case after that last game. We are going to take a lot out of that. We hate losing and didn’t do ourselves justice (in the final) there. We went into that game expecting a far better performance and we didn’t do it and thus didn’t get the result justifiably. It was good to see Emma Sykes, she didn’t look out of place and had some really good touches. Tiana Penitani had some turnovers as did Mahalia Murphy which was good to see.”
Meanwhile, Russia and England faced off in the battle for bronze.
Russia, still smarting from missing Rio, only survived the pool stages on points difference after defeats in their opening two games but turned their weekend around dramatically in the quarer-finals and they tore into Canada in the morning heat. Tries from Kristina Seredina and Daria Bobkova set the tone and, despite a converted Julia Greenshields' try for the Canadians, Zdrokova ensured a dramatic win a Dubai semi-final spot for the second year.
England had only just survived their quarter-final clash, with Fiji. The Fijiana were by far the more dominant team and showed great Fijian flair as they raced to a 17-5 lead. But, England’s experience shone through and tries from Alice Richardson and Jo Watmore saw the Red Roses battle back for a 19-17 win at the death.
The semi-finals had been less close. Russia struggled against the eventual champions New Zealand. Nadezda Kudinova, recovered from her injury scare on say one, managed to breach the Black Ferns defence but another two tries from Michaela Blyde saw them run out 24-5 winners.
England had similarly falled to Australia with an inspired Tiana Penitani, who had also shaken off an injury on day one, scored two tries in a 31-10 Australian win.
When the two teams came together in the Bronze Final England battled hard but two tries by Elena Zdrokova and one from Alena Mikhaltsova ended Russia's impressive weekend with a 19-14 win by and a bronze medal.
We came here with realistic expectations and were aiming for a top six finish, given we have a group who are so new to the World Series. To come and get a fourth is very pleasing.
England coach Simon Middleton said “The final game showed where we are at against the high level teams. We lacked a bit of forward momentum and the cutting edge you get from senior players. This group will learn and this has been a great experience for them.This is a young group and our more senior players have been outstanding in leading the squad. This gives us a great deal of confidence to go forward and grow.”
The Plate tournament no long takes place, so when the Fijiana bounced back from their last-gasp quarter-final loss by beating Canada 17-14 they merely took fifth place, relegating Canada to sixth place and the lowest finish for nearly a year – and Fiji’s best result since Guangzhou in 2014. Fiji showed a new level of consistency throughout these two days - has a new power been born?
France recovered from two Day Two drubbings to Australia (42-0) and Fiji (31-7) to take a consolation seventh place, beating South Africa 31-5 – and outcome that Africa’s champions would perhaps have been pleased with before the tournament, but which after their Day One performances may have been ultimately disappointing.
The Bowl has been replaced by the “Challenge Trophy”, though in practice it is merely a change of title and little else. Ireland lifted the title, beating Spain a tense game. Tries from Megan Williams and captain Lucy Mulhall, as well as some tough defence from the Irish, helped them seal a 14-12. The USA, who had started the tournament so promisingly, finished 11th after a tight 26-17 win over Brazil.
Australia and New Zealand remain clearly the teams to beat, but after that Dubai already shows that this could be the most challenging World Series ever. 11th placed United States beat 3rd placed Russia one Day One, amply illustrating that just about anyone can beat just about anyone this year. Perhaps only Brazil were significantly off the pace, and even they showed they what they can do in their final game.
Seven teams are competing for just four places Sevens World Cup places available from this year’s series (New Zealand, Canada, United States and Spain have already qualified). After Dubai it’d be a brave person who’d bet on who those qualifiers will be.
Day two results
New Zealand 39-0 South Africa
Canada 7-17 Russia
Fiji 17-19 England
Australia 42-0 France
New Zealand 24-5 Russia
England 10-31 Australia
Bronze Final (3rd Place)
Russia 17-14 England
New Zealand 17-5 Australia
5th-8th Play-Off Semi-Finals
South Africa 12-19 Canada
Fiji 31-12 France
Canada 14-17 Fiji
South Africa 5-31 France
Challenge Trophy Semi-Finals
Spain 22-7 Brazil
United States 5-28 Ireland
Challenge Cup Final (9th Place)
Spain 12-14 Ireland
Brazil 17-26 United States