Our favorite try is unique. The score itself wasn’t the flashiest, and the stakes weren’t incredibly high. The try was, however, thrilling, and important for more reasons than a tournament win.
The IRB held the first-ever Women Sevens World Series (WSWS) in 2012-13, and Houston was selected as the second leg of the four-stop series. Although the crowd inside BBVA Stadium didn’t reflect as much, this international, women-only tournament was a major benchmark for USA rugby. The Eagle women have played at home before – Las Vegas in recent years – but this event was their own, and 11 of the world’s best teams were in tow.
The Houston event was also an opportunity for the USA to redeem itself. In the opening WSWS round in Dubai, the Eagles finished a disappointing 9th. They returned home having realized that countries like Russia, Spain and South Africa were heavily investing in their 7s programs, and the international field of talent was shrinking. With few exceptions, there was no such thing as a “favorite” anymore.
Now, on their home field, in front of their own fans, and with everyone talking about the Rugby World Cup Sevens, the USA needed to feed off of the pressure and produce.
The USA delivered and finished (a distant) second to England, but no one was complaining – especially considering the events on day one. After tying Canada in the opening round of pool play (in a game that should have been a victory), the USA saw a 17-0 second-half lead over South Africa disappear. With 15 seconds left in regulation, the Springboks led 19-17.
There was time for one more restart, so the USA had one more shot to change the outcome of the game. A knock-on or kick to touch would end the match, and then the Americans’ Cup hopes would rely on the other pools’ outcomes. And then the negative criticism would build – second blown victory in as many games; are developing nations outpacing our progress? – in other words, the pressure was thickening.
“There was some stress,” 7s Eagle Lauren Doyle said of the do-or-die final play. “But I really like working under that kind of pressure. It hypes up your play, so it’s really fun.”
South Africa made the fatal mistake of sending the subsequent kickoff directly into touch, and Katie Dowty restarted the ball at the 50 meter. Substitute Doyle cozied up on the right touchline, and the ball found her quickly. It appeared that the 21-year-old was going to be pushed into touch as the defense converged, but Doyle put a little step on her opposite and then motored the rest of the pitch into the corner, 22-19. Game over, crowd goes crazy, the youngster beams as her teammates embrace her.
Trust was restored. The players demonstrated poise and professionalism, sent their fans jumping out of their seats, and went on to their highest finish all season, including the world cup. That try was one of those pivotal moments, when you’re ready to say, “Here we go again,” and then are ecstatic when proven wrong.