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Olympic spots all wrapped up after Sydney?

New Zealand were winners of the Sydney Sevens last weekend, thus wiping out their tournament loss in the last year, while the other three teams in the top four Olympic places extended their lead

So New Zealsnd win again, but main outcome of the Sydney Sevens – other than yet another Ferns win – was that the four Olympic places are now all-but decided.

Ireland had a great tournament finishing fourth, and Spain reached the quarters which should make their future in the series more secure, but for Europe as a whole the weekend could hardly have gone worse. The gap between France (Europe’s top ranked team) and the vital fourth Olympic qualification place is now 14 points. With just three rounds left – and no European team yet finishing better than fourth in any tournament - that looks an unbridgeable gap.

As a result, the four teams from the World Series going to Tokyo look near-certain to be New Zealand, United States, Canada and Australia. North America and Oceania will therefore each have at least three teams in Tokyo. The best Europe can hope for is just two, from the European Championship and the Repecharge.

Day one

Pool A

France started well against England with Anne-Cecile Ciofani crossing for two quick tries, and Caroline Drouin and captain Fanny Horta crossing either side of half-time. But a fantastic line from Alex Matthews finally pulled England back with a 70-metre try after which Megan Jones broke to give Emma Uren an easy score - but Horta had the final say with her second try securing a 27-14 win for Les Bleues. New Zealand initially encountered some resolute defence from invitational team Papua New Guinea before captain Sarah Hirini dotted down, but the Palais had the crowd on their feet soon after when Fatima Rima had the pace to outrun Michaela Blyde and acrobatically score a try. The Black Ferns, though, ran in five further tries, many of them down the middle, with Niall Williams and Ruby Tui among the scorers in a 38-5 win.

England bounced back from the loss to France with a 36-5 defeat of Papua New Guinea, Celia Quansah and Claire Allan both scoring braces in a match that once again saw the Palais score a try from their own half, this time Cassandra Sampson spotting a gap to run down the touchline. France have never beaten New Zealand in 20 attempts on the series but they began brightly with Chloe Pelle cancelling out Blyde's opening try. However, a yellow card for Ciofani gave the Black Ferns Sevens the upper hand and they stormed to a 31-7 victory with Stacey Waaka among their try-scorers.

France then finished their day one campaign with a flourish, captain Horta completing her hat-trick with time up on the clock as Les Bleues ran in eight tries against Papua New Guinea for a 53-0 victory. New Zealand were equally impressive against England, starting brightly with tries from Williams and Broughton before their opponents squandered a try-scoring opportunity when Abbie Brown knocked on. From there on it was all about the Black Ferns Sevens with Blyde, Baker and Alena Saili dotting down for a 29-0 victory.

Pool B

The opening match between Russia and Ireland looked to be heading for a scoreless conclusion until with just over two minutes to go Eve Higgins found herself in space on the right to score the opening try. However, an error from the kick-off allowed Russia to hit back instantly, Arina Bystrova running in a try from distance to tie the scores at 7-7. Russia had a chance to snatch victory at the death, but Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe beat Alena Mikhaltsova to the touchdown to ensure a draw. Canada made a clear statement of their desire to claim a second HSBC Sydney Sevens title with a 36-12 victory over Fiji, Bianca Farella and Brittany Benn both scoring doubles in a dominant display. Fiji would, though, take comfort from finishing well with some strong offloading and a great pick-up from Ana Maria Naimasi resulting in the last try of the game.

The form book was ripped up in the second round with Fiji powering past Russia 21-12 before Ireland recovered from 14-0 down to beat Dubai runners-up Canada by a solitary point. Luisa Tisolo, playing her first tournament of the series, ran in two of Fiji's three tries in the defeat of Russia to boost their chances of a first Cup quarter-final of the season. Canada made the perfect start with early tries from captain Ghislaine Landry and Breanne Nicholas, but Hannah Tyrrell began the Irish fight-back before half-time. Ireland dominated the second half and were rewarded with further tries by Louise Galvin and Murphy Crowe to beat Canada for the second time in 14 meetings on the series.

Fiji scored after just 13 seconds against Ireland, but then found themselves trailing 24-5 after a Murphy Crowe hat-trick and try from 17-year-old debutant Beibhinn Parsons. They did rally with tries by Naimasi and Daveua, before the latter was red carded for a dangerous tackle. Russia also scored a first-minute try against Canada in the final Pool B match, through Elena Zdrokova, but the sides would go in level at half-time after Farella dotted down. It was Russia, though, who ended a day of mixed fortunes with the victory after Mikhaltsova scored the winner.

Pool C

The USA needed a huge second-half effort to overcome China in their opening match with tries from Joanne Fa'avesi, Kris Thomas and debutant Kristi Kirshe securing a 26-10 victory. China had scored first when Lui Xiaoqian ran around the defence, before Naya Tapper equalled the USA series try record with her 64th score. Lui Xiaoqian's second was the best of the match, Chen Keyi putting through a perfectly weighted kick for her to run onto and acrobatically dot down under pressure from two USA defenders. Defending champions Australia also had a difficult opener, the hosts being held scoreless at half-time by Spain before Ellia Green sidestepped Amaia Erbina to run in the first try. Emma Sykes and Evania Pelite added tries to wrap up the 19-0 victory.

Thomas raced away to give USA the lead against Spain in round two, but the Women's Sevens Eagles were caught napping at the restart as teenager Lide Erbina came from nowhere to gather the kick and run in for a try unchallenged. Kirshe put the Glendale runners-up ahead again, but a great offload from Iera Echebarria sent co-captain Marina Bravo over with Patricia Garcia nailing the conversion to tie the scores. Garcia then lost the ball over the line in the tackle, but made no mistake a minute later to secure Spain a 21-14 win – their first over USA since Sydney last year. Australia hit the ground running against China, Pelite and Alicia Quirk crossing in the first two minutes to give them a lead they never surrendered, although they did concede their first points in Sydney since the 2017 event when Gu Yaoyao broke through late on.

USA knew they needed to beat Australia, as they had in both Glendale and Dubai this season, to guarantee their quarter-final spot and they produced a dominant first-half display to lead 19-0 with tries from Jordan Gray-Matyas, Kirshe and Tapper. Australia were stunned and simply had no answer, although they did rally with two late scores through Pelite and the returning Tonegato. That proved to be enough for top spot after Spain battled past China 14-12 in the final match of the day, Patricia Garcia crucially converting both her own and Echebarria's tries against the Asian side who had shown how their game has developed in their time back on the series as a core team.

Day 2

CHALLENGE TROPHY

The Challenge Trophy semi-finals kicked off the action on day two with England meeting Papua New Guinea for the second time in Sydney after winning their Pool A encounter 36-5 on day one. Both teams were missing a player after England's Claire Allan was suspended for three matches for a dangerous tackle on Fatima Rama that saw her subsequently fail a head injury assessment. England were once again just too strong for the Palais, Holly Aitchison and Lizzie Adam scoring braces in the eight-try, 54-0 win. The second semi-final between Fiji and China was a much closer affair, Merewai Cumu finding a gap for the opening score on the stroke of half-time with Merewalesi Rokouono dotted down to seal the 12-0 victory for the Fijians.

Asinate Savu scored a late try to beat England 15-12 in the Challenge Trophy final, much to the delight of the huge Fijian contingent in the crowd. Deborah Fleming had given England the lead, but Fiji hit back through Tokasa Seniyasi and Lavenia Tinai to edge ahead early in the second half. A powerful run by Alex Matthews saw the lead change hands for at third time, but Fiji were not to be denied as they first worked Savu over in the corner and stifled an England attack to record their best finish of the series to date. China, meanwhile, finished the tournament with a flourish to leave Papua New Guinea still seeking their first-ever series victory, Chen Keyi scoring a hat-trick in the 31-0 defeat of the Palais with Yu Liping and Chen Ming also crossing.

CUP QUARTER-FINALS

The one European highspot of the weekend was Ireland – who clearly loved Sydney ever since they were Australia’s opponents in the trial event in 2016. Their impressive run continued on Saturday as they reached their first-ever World Series Cup semi-final following a 22-7 defeat of Spain.

It was Ireland who made the best start in the damp conditions, Eve Higgins starting and finishing a move for the first try. They lost Anna McGann to the sin-bin but on the stroke of half-time captain Lucy Mulhall added a penalty – the first of the 2019 series – for a 10-0 lead. Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe dotted down twice in the second half and although Lide Erbina grabbed a late consolation try for Spain, it was Ireland celebrating at the final whistle.

The chances of an all European semi-final were dashed however after a French comeback against Australia came too late to stop the home side winning 21-17.

Australia were up for a physical battle with Ellia Green putting in a huge tackle on Shannon Izar before captain Sharni Williams hauled Anne-Cecile Ciofani into touch short of the line. Emma Sykes and Williams then scored to give Australia a 14-0 lead, but Carla Neisen's dummy saw her cut the deficit on the stroke of half-time. Lily Dick pushed Australia's lead out to 21-5 before Ciofani and Valentine Lothoz scored late tries for France.

In the other half of the draw New Zealand ran out 17-7 winners over Canada. Only three points separated the teams at half-time after tries from Ruby Tui and captain Sarah Hirini either side of Ghislaine Landry's score for Canada. Theresa Fitzpatrick scored the only try of the second half as the Black Ferns Sevens showed their defensive prowess to keep Canada at bay to reach the last four for the seventh series event in a row.

Russia had beaten Canada on day one and looked set for a North American double after Baizat Khamidova scored the opener in the second quarter-final against USA. They should have doubled their lead as half-time approached but after a series of pop passes they knocked on a metre from the line. The score remained at 5-0 until the final minute when Jordan Gray-Matyas powered past three Russian players to send Emba over under the posts, giving her captain Heavirland a straightforward conversion for the victory and a repeat of the final at the opening round in Glendale last October.

Finals Day

Fifth Place play-offs

Semi-finals

The fifth place semi-finals had earlier kicked off the final day of play at a sun-baked Spotless Stadium with Canada overcoming some early Russian pressure to take control of the match with Bianca Farella running in the opening try from halfway before Kaili Lukan dotted down on the stroke of half-time for a 12-0 advantage. Canada, needing to do some damage control to minimise points loss in the race for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games qualification, gave Russia a way back in when they knocked on and Arina Bystrova pounced on the loose ball to run in unchallenged, but they held on for an important 12-5 victory.

France enjoyed the perfect start in the next semi-final, Marjorie Mayans turning the ball over and Seraphine Okemba finishing off the move in the corner. However, she turned villain seconds later with a deliberate knockdown earning her a seat in the sin-bin, with Spain capitalising on their advantage with Patricia Garcia dotting down. Garcia then slalomed her way through the defence for her second try, but France hit back instantly after Mayans offloaded for Caroline Drouin to run in for a 12-12 tie at half-time. The match looked to be heading for extra-time until Anne-Cecile Ciofani found a way through the Spanish defence with 30 seconds remaining to seal a 19-12 win.

Fifth place final

Bianca Farella's late try saw Canada come from behind to beat France 19-17 in the fifth place play-off, securing valuable points in the race for Olympic qualification. France had enjoyed a dream start when Shannon Izar dotted own in the opening minute, but Canada hit back when captain Ghislaine Landry's deft kick was pounced on by Farella to give her side the lead. It didn't last long, though, as France put Izar into space for her second try and a12-7 lead at half-time. Landry sidestepped through the French defence to tie the scores before uncharacteristically hitting the post with a conversion from in front of the posts, but once again Les Bleues' response was swift as Valentine Lothoz and Carla Neisen combined well for the former to edge their side ahead again. That looked like being the winning try until Brittany Benn offloaded to Farella and she did the rest, Landry making no mistake with the conversion this time.

"We worked really hard. You can’t turn off as the game of sevens is too good nowadays. To finish fifth is the best outcome we could have got at the start of day two and day three. For Olympic qualification, keeping close to the top three or four is our main goal for now," said Farella.

Seventh place final

Russia also finished on a winning note, beating Spain 34-5 in the seventh place play-off. Beatriz Dominguez Sanchez had given Las Leonas the early lead, but Baizat Khamidova backed her pace and raced away to tie the scores. Kristina Seredina and Khamidova scored while Maria Losada was in the sin-bin for a high tackle and there was no way back for Spain as Anna Bystrova, Daria Noritsina and Daria Lushina got their name on the scoreboard as well.

Semi-finals

Earlier in the day, New Zealand had gone into the semi-finals without their play-maker Tyla Nathan-Wong after she limped out of their previous match, but under the blazing Sydney sun they were in no mood to miss out on a seventh successive series Cup final. Their attacks were initially pushed backwards by the USA defence, but once Blyde got the ball in space on the wing there was only one outcome likely. Ruby Tui then bounced out of a tackle to run in a second with Gayle Broughton also crossing for a 19-0 lead at half-time. The Women's Eagles Sevens, who beat New Zealand at this stage in Sydney in 2017, needed to score first in the second half but they put the restart out on the full and some strong running lines saw the Black Ferns cross twice more through Baker and Katarina Whata-Simpkins. There was time for a late consolation try for co-captain Lauren Doyle – her 50th on the series – but the win was New Zealand's.

The temperature was certainly more to Australia's liking than Ireland's in the second semi-finals and they hit the ground running with Green scoring two tries in little more than a minute to the delight of the crowd, one of them coming from a turnover by captain Williams with quick ball to Pelite for her to release the speedster. Green slipped as she looked set to race away for her hat-trick score but another try did come through Emma Tonegato for a 19-0 half-time advantage. The second half was a different story, though. Gone was the dominance from Australia as first-time Cup semi-finalists Ireland pressured them into errors and panic at times in defence, Murphy Crowe scored twice to spark hopes of a comeback and it took a big tackle from Green to stop a third try for Ireland. Australia put pressure on themselves again with a loose pass in front of their own posts, but Pelite again released Green to complete her hat-trick and secure a place in the final for the second year running in Sydney.

Bronze final

There was to be no fairy tale podium finish for Ireland after braces from Kris Thomas and Kristi Kirshe saw USA claim the bronze medal with a 26-10 victory. Thomas put the Women's Sevens Eagles on the front foot when she scored with only 30 seconds on the clock and then Kirshe, playing in her first series tournament, spotted a gap in the Irish defence and exploited it to perfection. Thomas added her second for a 19-0 lead at half-time but Ireland responded with tries by Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe and a solo effort from Eve Higgins. Kirshe, though, put a stop to Ireland's comeback with her second try after a nice one-two on halfway.

Gold Final

The 14th Cup final between the two most successful teams in sevens history was their first meeting of the 2019 series. The outcome, though, would be the same as their last encounter, in the title decider of the HSBC Paris Sevens last year – a New Zealand victory.

Stacey Waaka opened the scoring for the Black Ferns Sevens and then turned try-saver when she tackled Evania Pelite into touch as the Australian looked certain to tie the scores. The try did ultimately come for Australia after some great play by Emma Sykes, the play-maker left with little option but to try the kick ahead and she ran through to gather it with ease and dot down.

Australia suffered a blow, though, when captain Sharni Williams was sin-binned for taking a player out in the air and New Zealand pounced with two quickfire tries to lead 17-5 at half-time, Shakira Baker capitalising on a missed tackle to score before Michaela Blyde sprinted clear for her first try.

Blyde capitalised on three missed tackles to score again within a minute of the restart, but Sykes gave the home crowd hope when she stepped her way through the defence to cut the deficit to 24-10. Ellia Green then chased down Niall Williams to prevent another Black Ferns Sevens try but there was still time for HSBC Player of the Final Waaka to dot down and Blyde to complete her hat-trick for a ninth victory in 10 meetings with Australia.

The Black Ferns are now one win shy of equalling their record of 37 victories in a row on the series that they set across 2014 and 2015 and have won 49 matches in all competitions since that painful defeat.

"It’s always hard coming up against Australia at home," said Blyde, the DHL Impact Player in Sydney. "We knew they were going to come out firing in front of their families and friends, so we just made sure we emptied it out on that field. We’ve come out with the result which is brilliant.

"Since the Commonwealth Games final we’ve completely turned around our culture, our game-plan and mindset. We’ve got a really tough year coming up with Olympic qualification this year and Olympics next year so every tournament, team and game is one you’ve got to not take lightly. We’re coming out on top and that’s good."

Sydney marks the halfway point in the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series 2019 and New Zealand now lead the race to Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games qualification with 60 points, 12 points more than USA with Canada and Australia both on 46 points as the other teams currently in the all-important top four spots. France lie fifth, now 14 points behind the top four.

Series standings

POS

TEAM

GLENDALE

DUBAI

SYDNEY

POINTS

1

New Zealand

20

20

20

60

2

USA

18

14

16

48

3

Canada

16

18

12

46

4

Australia

12

16

18

46

5

France

14

8

10

32

6

Ireland

10

6

14

30

7

Russia

8

12

8

28

8

England

6

10

3

19

9

Spain

4

3

6

13

10

Fiji

3

2

4

9

11

China

2

4

2

8

12

Kenya

-

1

-

1

13

Papua New Guinea

-

-

1

1

14

Mexico

1

-

-

1