The rising stars of seven World Series countries met this weekend (23/24 February) at the Okinawa Invitational Sevens.
Most of the squads in Okinawa mixed young up-and-coming players with more experienced squad members - Canada included Kayla Moleschi and Natasha Watcham-Roy, Russia fielded Marina Kukina, and the USA Hope Rogers and Kate Zackary.
England’s squad was particularly strong, with Amy Wilson Hardy, Sarah McKenna – but appropriately it was Jess Breach who did most to help take her team to the final, where Canada would reverse their opening day defeat to lift the title.
Unsurprisingly the lack of experience among many of the players meant it proved to be at times an unpredictable weekend. No teams completed the pool stage on the first day with 100% records, and England were the day's only unbeaten team. Games were closely fought with leads changing hands repeatedly. The opening game between Russia and Fiji was typical, Russia finally sneaking ahead only in the final minute, only to see Miriama Naiobasali, who had scored the opening try, come back from the bench to score the winner from the final play. USA also came from behind in their first game to beat Japan on the final play with a try from Kelli Smith tying the score before Natalie Kosko converted for the win.
Jess Breach carried on from Sydney with two first-half tries to set-up an England win over Canada, despite a late comeback by the Maple Leafs, while Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea showed she could be a name to watch for with a first-half hat-trick for the Pearls against Japan B.
Japan A lost from the final play again in the second round against Russia, while the USA won the tournament’s most one-sided game with a 31-0 win over Fiji. In Pool B Canada recorded their first win over Japan B before England met Australia in a classic match, another Breach brace giving England an early 14-7 lead only for Australia to come back through Cassie Staples and Page McGregor to lead 19-14 at halftime. There was no score in the second half until the final minute when a yellow card for Australia’s Georgie Fredrichs gave room for Sarah McKenna to tie the scores. Emily Scott could not convert, so the game ended a 19-19 draw.
The third round finally saw a win for Japan A over Fiji, before Russia beat USA 19-14 to win the pool. England took Pool B with a strong win over Japan B (Breach again opening the scoring) before the opening day ended with another tight game, Kayla Moleschi getting the crucial score to sneak the game 17-14.
On the second day Pool A winners Russia had to come back from behind to beat Japan B, while Canada won a tight, low-scoring game with Japan A. Australia ran away with their game against the USA with three second half tries after leading only 12-10 at the break, while Vicky Fleetwood’s second half double ensured England a place in the semi-finals.
The semi-finals were surprisingly one-sided, with Canada shutting out Russia until the final play, Caroline Crossley’s two tries either side of halftime ending Russian resistance. England conceded and early Page McGregor try to Australia, but after that Matthews, Hunt and inevitably two tries for Breach put them into the final.
The final was dominated by the Maple Leafs, England not getting on the board until the final minute in reply to five Canadian scores shared between five players (Pamphinette Buisa, Caroline Crossley, Kayla Moleschi, Natasha Watcham-Roy and Megan Lukan) demonstrating their strength in depth.
Pool A: Russia 19-21 Fiji; USA 26-24 Japan A; Russia 20-15 Japan A; USA 31-0 Fiji; Russia 19-14 USA; Japan A 36-21 Fiji
Pool B: Canada 19-28 England; Australia 31-5 Japan B; Canada 31-12 Japan B; Australia 19-19 England; Canada 17-14 Australia; Japan B 10-26 England
Quarter-finals: Russia 21-17 Japan B; Canada 10-5 Japan A; USA 17-29 Australia; England 33-14 Fiji
Plate semi-finals: Japan B 0-26 Japan A; USA 26-5 Fiji
Cup semi-finals: Russia 7-24 Canada; Australia 5-24 England
7th place: Japan B 10-26 Fiji
5th place: Japan A 19-15 USA
3rd place: Russia 14-45 Australia
Final: Canada 29-7 England
Australia (Pearls): Lauren Brown; Lily Dick; Georgie Friedrichs; Katie Harrison; Demi Hayes; Courtney Hodder; Grace Kaihau; Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea; Page McGregor; Yasmin Meakes; Faith Nathan; Cassie Staples
Canada (Maple Leafs): 1. Olivia Apps, Aurora Barbarians, (Lindsay, ON); 2. Alexandria Bennett, Ottawa; rish (Ottawa, ON); 3. Pam Buisa, Ottawa; rish (Gatineau, QC); 4. Emma Chown, Aurora Barbarians (Barrie, ON); 5. Caroline Crossley, Castaway Wanderers (Victoria, BC); 6. Fabiola Forteza, Club de Rugby de Quebec (Quebec, QC); 7. Sara Kaljuvee, Toronto Scottish (Ajax, ON); 8. Megan Lukan, Unattached (Barrie, ON); 9. Kayla Moleschi, Williams Lake Rustlers (Williams Lake, BC); 10. Arielle Normandin-LeClerc, TMRRFC (Montreal, QC) ?; 11. Sabrina Poulin, TMRRFC (Vaudreuil-Dorion, QC); 12. Natasha Watcham-Roy, Hull Volant (Gatineau, QC)
England: Jess Breach; Abbie Brown (C); Vicky Fleetwood; Millie Wood; Sarah Mckenna; Natasha Hunt; Claire Allan; Emily Scott; Alex Matthews; Megan Jones; Olivia Jones; Amy Wilson Hardy
Fiji: Elenoa Adi; Luisa Basei; Esiteri Bulikiobo; Mere Leivere; Ana Maria Naimasi; Miriama Naiobasali; Prisilla Siata; Jiowana Sauto; Vasiti Solikoviti; Raijieli Tale; Mereula Torooti; Vilisi Vakaloloma
Japan A: 1 Bativakalolo Raichelmiyo; 2 Tomomi Kozasa; 3 Sora Nishimura; 4 Yume Hirano; 5 Sayaka Suzuki; 6 Yukari Tateyama; 7 Emii Tanaka; 8 Pete Someya Eimi; 9 Rinka Matsuda; 10 Fumiko Otake; 11 Mifuyu Koide; 12 Hana Nagata
Japan B:1 Miho Matsunaga; 2 Sachiko Katou; 3 Hinano Nagura; 4 Aoi Mimura; 5 Kana Murokoshi; 6 Wakaba Hara; 7 Ayumi Yabuuchi; 8 Hikari Kubo; 9 Ayano Sakurai; 10 Karin Yamashita; 11 Shiho Ugawa; 12 Moe Tsukui
Russia: Alina Arterchuk; Yana Danilova; Marina Kukina; Ekaterina Mikhaleva; Daria Noritsina; Anna Baranchuk; Polina Buravleva; Anastasia Prokudina; Evgenia Steblinskaya; Diana Glushenko; Nikolina Ryashina; Snezhanna Kulkova
United States (Falcons): 1 Hope Rogers; 2 Kate Zackary; 4 Chelsey Birgisdottir; 5 Alena Olsen; 6 Natalie Kosko; 7 Ashlee Byrge; 8 Dani McDonald; 9 Kels Stockert; 10 Sarah Buonopane; 11 Kelli Smith; 12 Neariah Persinger