Rugby sevens is back! After taking a break over the summer, the world’s premier sevens competition has returned for another year of fast-paced and spectacular rugby. The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series returned with a new leg on the women’s series in a brand-new city, as the best women’s sevens players in the world descended on Glendale, Colorado for the HSBC USA Women’s Sevens.
Last season, the women’s game was dominated by the two Antipodean powerhouses Australia and New Zealand. Despite the New Zealand Black Ferns winning the final three legs of the series (part of their incredible run of unbeaten games that also includes the Commonwealth Games and this summer’s Rugby World Cup Sevens) it was Australia who clinched the series title by the tiny margin of two points. With it so tight at the top, going into a new season, things could not be more closely balanced.
Adding even more drama to the 2019 season is the looming prospect of Olympic qualification. The top four teams in both the men’s and women’s series earn a place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and with it the opportunity to compete on a huge global stage.
After the first day of competition, the tournament looked to be going true to form. After the group stages were complete it was New Zealand, Australia and Canada who sat on top of the three groups, each with three wins out of three. Completing the cup quarter-finals would be the two best third place sides Ireland and the home side USA Women’s Eagles Sevens. The hosts qualified by the tightest of margins, just one point ahead of Spain in point difference.
When the cup quarter-finals kicked off it looked like the formbook would remain intact. New Zealand, Canada and France all completing victories. But it was in the fourth quarter-final where the shock of the weekend took place. Inspired by their home crowd, the USA completed a brilliant victory 26-5 against Australia. They carried that momentum into the semi-finals where they pulled off another superb win against Rugby World Cup Sevens finalists France. The Black Ferns awaited in the Cup final.
When the final came, the Black Ferns were again unstoppable. Led by supremely talented players including Ruby Tui, Michaela Blyde and Porta Woodman their dominant run continued with a 33-7 victory.
The key takeaways? Well it may only be one leg into the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, but already it’s hard to look past New Zealand. With the dominance of their team, and Australia having slipped up in Glendale, the Black Ferns will go into the next leg in Dubai supremely confident.
Glendale also demonstrated that Olympic qualification is wide open. New Zealand, Australia and Canada still look good bets for the top three spaces, but the fourth is wide open. France, Russia and England will all be competitive. If Glendale is anything to go by, the USA too could prove a real contender. Their success is part of the continued rise of US rugby in the sevens game. The game’s sleeping rugby powerhouse, the huge growth of the sport in the US has been kicked into gear by the success of both the means and women’s teams, hosting a very successful Rugby World Cup Sevens this summer and by a concerted effort being made to attract new fans in the US. The best example of which is the two-part documentary following the USA Men’s Sevens team created by series partner HSBC that was created to make more people in the States aware of the sport:
It will be fascinating to see how the continued US rise plays out over the coming months. But at least for now, the New Zealand Black Ferns remain one of rugby’s most dominant teams. Now, on to Dubai!
Written By James Fenn – 06/11/18