As predicted, The Royals and Japan Select 2 met in the Women’s Open 7s final. The two proved quite convincingly that they were the best teams at the Las Vegas Invitational during day one, and the title bout was the highlight of the tournament.
Although The Royals triumphed 42-17, the game was much closer than the point differential indicated. There were no signs of handicapping fatigue or any drop in physicality. Japan was stunning one on one, showcasing the freezing footwork for which the team is known. They were crisp and relentless. The Royals were not outmatched and had an edge in size, but they could also put away their biggest player for the breakaway try.
In fact, most of The Royals’ tries were breakaways, evolving after a feisty midfield battle with both sides punishing one another for slow support to the tackle. Japan had one big player, a Fijian nicknamed Raite, who could bend the defensive line; however, Evan Hoese was particularly effective in subduing ballcarriers who tested the gainline.
Although the motley team performed cohesively, one player did stand out: Jess Wooden. The Atlanta fullback, who is in the Eagle 15s pool, hasn’t played much 7s, but she scored three of The Royals’ six tries, and proved to have the best straightaway speed on the field. Her first score came after first leaping over a would-be tackler.
“I can’t remember if it came off a turnover, but the referee was in the middle of the field, and that was like a nice pick for me,” Wooden said. “Some of the defenders ran into him.”
Modest, but Wooden did well to exploit half-gaps and chase down some Japanese breaks.
“They were difficult, fast, and worked well as a team,” Wooden said of her opponent. “They were technically sound and could move the ball really well, and they all have a good step, too. It was a lot different than some of our earlier games.”
There was one exception, of course: Team Lola during the playoffs.
“They were fun,” Wooden said. “They’re a mix of a bunch of players too and had some really great players – the ones you hear about all the time and think: God, we have to play them? But it’s nice to play people who know what they’re doing. They give you a good game and that’s what you want.”
In the final, The Royals worked the sidelines and the holes opened up as the ball recycled back across the field. In addition to Wooden, Hoese, Lucy Croy and Sarah Davis scored the tries. Hoese added two conversions, and Wooden tackled on four.
The Women’s Open was the only other 7s division for women besides the Elite. The Royals certainly could have competed at that level, and maybe they will next year now that the team name has some notoriety. Wooden was necessarily so concerned about that, just enjoying the Las Vegas experience and making an already good weekend better.
“I’m usually injured during the 7s season, so this was a lot of fun,” Wooden said. “I was just excited to be invited to the team, and playing with all these girls – they’re all really good and come from different teams. We just sort of put it together and meshed really well. This [the trophy] just makes it that much sweeter.”