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NZ win Amsterdam and Series titles

The final day of the Amsterdam Sevens, and the first Women's Sevens World Series.

**New Zealand have been crowned the IRB Women's Sevens World Series Champions following their Quarter Final win over Spain.

You can watch day one highlights here

Cup Quarter Finals

New Zealand went into the game against Spain knowing a win would take them to the Series title. But they were dealt a blow with news that Brazier, Goss and Tui were all ruled out injured after knocks on day one.

It was a shaky start from the series leaders with pressure from Spain seeing them take the lead from Marta Cabane who profited from a mistake at the scrum and a 5-0 lead. Portia Woodman raced away to score before the break with a fine individual effort for a 7-5 halftime lead for New Zealand.  Kayla McAlister then eased the nerves with a strong try just after the break. And thus New Zealand took it 14-5 and were crowed IRB Women’s Sevens World Series Champions.

Australia then took on Russia in the next Quarter.  It was a physical battle and despite Russia enjoying most of the early possession, Tiana Penitani grabbed the first score after the influential Khamidova was yellow carded for Russia. Sharni Williams then scored just before halftime for a 10-0 lead.  Ekaterina Kazakova powered through a gap and raced through for the first score of the second half for Russia. Then Anna Malygina scored again and Russia went into the lead. As Australia pressed to get back into it  Ekaterina Kazakova sprinted through for the winning try 19-10.

Next up it was England and France. England took the lead with a nice finish from Ruth Laybourn but France were physical in contact and made life hard for their opponents. Laybourn though found herself in space again just before the break and scored a second for a 12-0 lead.  It was a game involving a lot of contact and direct rugby. There was just one score in the second half with Alex Matthews scoring out wide after a break from Sonia Green. England winning 19-0.

Canada v USA were next up for the chance to play England in the semi finals.  Kayla Moleschi scored early for Canada who came out of the blocks firing. Mandy Marchak then picked up a kick through from Heather Moyse for a 12-0 half time lead.  Finally USA managed to get the ball to speedster Victoria Folayan who raced around to get one back but a try from Brittany Waters settled it for Canada who won it 19-5.

Results:
New Zealand 14 Spain 5
Russia 19 Australia 10
England 19 France 0
Canada 19 USA 5

The Bowl Semi-final went to script. The Netherlands went to some way recovering from yesterday's disappointment (which has resulted in some criticism in the Dutch press, we hear) by beating Brazil 31-0, with five tries from Pien Selbeck, Kelly van Harkskamp (two each) and Paula Schouten. South Africa had a similarly straightforward win over China, with Yolanda Meiring and Shona Weston putting them 12-0 up at halftime. Yi Zhenzhu pulled on back in the second period, but the South Africans never really looked like losing the game, and Zenay Jordaan wrapped it up in the final minute. 19-7.

Plate semi-finals

There was a great first game between Australia and Spain. Emilly Cherry opened the scoring early on for Australia, but Spain were soon back in it when Irene Schiavon broke through, shortly followed by Marta Cabane who slived through the Australian defence with a great sidestep. 10-5 ahead at the break, Spain defended well in a almost scoreless second half before, after a long final play, Cabane secured a Plate Final for the Spanish, and, remarkably, Australia's fifth successive IRB tournament semi-final defeat (Plate or Cup) - they have not made a final since Hong Kong in 2012.

France pushed USA all the way in the second game, having gone into the break 10-0 down. Folayan showing - yet again - her incredible speed down the right wing for the first US score, before Vanesha McGee doubled the lead two minutes later. But they did not have it all their own way following a excellently worked try by France a minute into the second period, Jade Le Pesq and Shannon Isar working a nice inter passing move, supporting each other well with Le Pesq ending the move by taking the ball on after Izar had just falledn short. Two young and talented players (Izar in particular has barely turned 20 and is in her first season of top level rugby). However, despite plenty of French pressure and the use of their entire bench, USA held on to make the Plate final.

Cup Semi-Finals

And so the much awaited game between the new (rugby) world and the old, Russia - in many ways the team of the tournament (given their pre-event ranking) and New Zealand (bearing in mind that five of the Russian girls had never touched a rugby ball a year a go what they have achieved is remarkable). Kelly Brazier opened the scoring for New Zealand before Russia struck back, not through Khamidova but rather Nadezda Yarmotskaya who scored a beautiful try, cutting through the New Zealand defence before outpacing the sweepers. Honey Hireme restored the New Zealand advantage again, but it was Yarmotskaya who intellegently stayed with her to ensure a difficult conversion, which was missed. The score was therefore only 12-5 at half time, and soon became 12-10. Russia were back in the game, and defending well. Anastasiia Mukhariamove (who takes some taking down with ball in hand) typified their attitude, catching the tiniest thread of Kayla McAlister's shirt as she tried to break through, holding her back and then completing a great tackle. But in the end, experience told, Portia Woodman (who has been playing for barely a year as well) cut through to restore New Zealand's seven point advantage before Huriana Manuel finished the game off from close in at the end of regulation time. 24-10 to New Zealand.

Finally, a reapeat of the London semi-final as England took on Canada. England started with a superb team move, the ball passing through the hands of almost every player before just coming up short of the line. This was largely the story of the first half, England with most of the ball but unable to break through. Canada, on the other hand, looked devastating on the break, both Harvey and Kish having great chances snuffed out by good English tackling. The half ended, however, with an English score, Katy McLean finally finding a way through - and converting her own score. After that tough opening half both coaches made free use of their benches, and it was Canada who seemed to come up with the better combination. With much more ball in the second half, they soon pulled a try back through Bianca Farella. The kick was missed, however, so England stayed ahead - for the time being. Two minutes later, however, Jen Kish had a great chance, but seemed to have thrown it away by holding on too long. However, somehow the ball came out on the Canadian side and even with England having a moment to reorganise there was not stopping Kelly Russell from scoring what was to be the winning try. 12-7 to Canada, and a final with New Zealand.

Bowl

China took 11th place with a confident 26-12 win over Brazil, showing their strength against a team that has become a major rival in the WSWS. Liu Yan scored two tries, Pei Jiawen and Zhou Jiaxen one each. The Chinese were soon ahead in the game. and went into the break 12-7 ahead - Edna Santini pulling one back at the end of the half. The second half repeated the third, and after 10 minutes the game as firmly to China, who ran out 26-12 winners.

The Dutch took the Bowl title with a massive 32-0 win over South Africa. It may have gone some way to make up for disappointment yesterday, and in many was the game showed up where the Dutch have difficulties. Against sides like themselves - built around speed - they are a great team, as Brazil and now South Africa found out. But against more physical sides they continue to struggle. Russia are becoming a near bogey team, but even the Chinese worried the Dutch for a while (and at times their passing was poor - especially in the game with New Zealand). In this game, however, it was party time. Kelly van Harskamp opened the scoring, van Altena followed, and then van Rossum score from a perfectly weighted kick and chase. The second half was like the first, and at least the home team finished with some silverware.

Plate

Another good effort by the French but in the end Australia took the game 14-12. Anais Lagougine opened the scoring for France, but two tries from the great new teenage find Tiana Penitani reversed the game and at half-time it was 14-7. A great second half battle followed with both teams using their full bench, before Jade Le Pesq scored from the final play - but too wide on the right for Le Duff to be able to tie the scores.

The Plate final went down to the wire. It looked like Spain would take it, leading 12-7 with 14 seconds to go, but the US stole the ball and tied the game. With no score from the final play the game went into overtime. Both sides had their chances but it was Vanesha McGee who scored the vital "golden" score.

Third place

Russia were up for this game and simply knocked England aside in the opening period. Yarmotskaya opened the scoring in the second minute before Khamidova, with speed, strength and a great step, split the England defence twice in as many minutes to give Russia a 21-0 advantage at the break. A yellow for Kazakova allowed England to pull a try back, but with Pavel "Pasha" Baronovasky putting all his players on, Maina Petrova scored a fourth Russian try to run out deserved 26-5 winners. England, interestingly, used no replacements at all in the game.

Cup Final

And so to the Cup Final with New Zealand going in in unbeaten form, and Canada making up for an up and down opening day with a great second day.

Canada opened the scoring through Bianca Farella who raced under the posts early for a 7-0 lead. New Zealand hit right back, after Canada fluffed their restart, with a leveller from Kayla McAlister.   Canada continued to press hard and Farella showed her pace again to go around Woodman and score for a 12-7 lead.  Honey Hireme was then yellow carded and Canada made New Zealand pay with a try from Jen Kish. But New Zealand hit back straight away again with the brilliant Kayla McAlister sprinting over from the halfway line for a 19-14 halftime score.

Kish scored again just after the break but New Zealand were straight back down the other end through Brazier and it stood at 21-24 with a whole seven minutes left! Woodman then scored to see New Zealand into the lead for the first time and when Greig crashed over it was enough to secure the win 33-24.

Review

"We think this is the ideal size of stadium for women's sevens", organisers said the evening before, and so in many ways it proved to be. Given even slightly better weather on Day One it would have been a massive success, instead of merely a huge one - at least 4000 at the final, possibly 5000 - and in a small ground that was some atmosphere. As the weather improved on Day 2 so the crowds grew, and the play improved as well with handling errors significantly reduced.  Without question some sort of double-header seems the way to go for the women's sevens series - either at IRB men's events, or at tournaments like this - with a long history and a great many people coming anyway. Indeed in many ways Amsterdam is perhaps the ideal as the women's event was the centre of the weekend, rather than being largely relegated to outside pitches as at Dubai, London, Hong Kong and so on (and, indeed, the World Cup itself). 

As for the actual competition its not untrue to say that the monolith of the World Cup did overshadow things slightly. Team selections for England, Spain, France, and Australia to name but four were very much with Moscow in mind rather than the WSWS itself. Even New Zealand, as their coach pointed out, have used 29 players across the four tournaments - so they are experimenting as well. This did not result in a poorer tournament in any way, but if you are looking at this as a guide for Moscow then do not jump to any conclusions. Except...

England have clearly a huge depth of talent. Did they come here expecting to get so close to the final? If they were honest I suspect they would have to admit that they did not. But the team played with great heart, passion and commitment - they believed in themselves, and when things came to the wire (as in the opening game with South Africa) they pulled through. I would hate to be on the selection committee for Moscow!

Russia. Wow is the only word. They may have been third, but they are the team of the tournament with a back story that takes some believing - but is all true. Five of this team had never played rugby a year ago. At all. Did not know the game existed. Most of the rest have barely played two years. And all that thanks to one man - the passion of "Pasha" must be seen to be believed, and if anything that passion is even more evident in quiet chats between games. "My players play from the heart", he says - well, we know who gives them that heart.

Netherlands. Deep disappointment, though "a kick in the backside in our home tournament is no bad thing ahead of the World Cup" is how their coach summed it up. Four players were out for this tournament, including Tessa Veldhuis who lead the crowd from the sidelines. In truth the Dutch still get outmuscled - and Gareth Gilbert was first to admit that his players still tend to back off when playing bigger teams. However, passing was a major let down - the Dutch weather hardly helped, but you cannot catch balls passed two or three metres short, mistakes that cost them great field positions in several games, most especially against New Zealand. The Dutch are a great team to have on the circuit, but will they breakthrough from the top eight or nine to the top three or four (like Russia)? Not at the moment.

Spain. Also with injuries and experimenting, but somehow - despite not playing well - they were in at the mix in the end. Again. Very unlucky to lose to Australia in the Plate - they never give up, and you can never write them off. Why they were not a core team this time round we may never know, but when they are not at a tournament something is missing.

Canada.  The Canadians are back. We saw it in London, and we saw it here. After a quiet 18 months or so they are hitting their stride at just the right time. The return of Heather Moyse - not maybe fully match fit here - is great to see, and she could well be a star in Moscow.

New Zealand. The team to beat, clearly, but for all that they are not invincible. All teams had their moments against them, but their great strength is that they do not panic (much). When things go against them they drop back, run through the phases, starve the opposition of ball, and score. We saw that in the final, and we saw it in the pools. Even the players who have not played rugby for long - and four of this squad have come through their programme seeking players from other sports (like netballer Portia Woodman) - know rugby. And that counts for a lot.

For the rest... they all had their moments this weekend, they will all better as a result, and they will all be in Moscow. And, given a fair wind, any of at least 10 of them could win it.

Final message? If you can - if you are anywhere in northern Europe next May - come to Amsterdam. Come to watch, come to play, come alone, come with a team. Whatever, but come. Its a brilliant event... even if the wifi can be a shade dodgy at crucial moments! Now where did those stroopwaffels go?