New Zealand shut out the USA 31-0 Thursday evening in the Women's 7s in Dubai, capping off a 3-0 day for the Silver Ferns 7s and a 1-1-1 day for the Eagles that could have been better, but also could have been worse.
The Americans and Silver Ferns both entered the game knowing they were through to the quarterfinals, as Fiji had defeated Ireland in the previous match, clinching good news for the USA. The Eagles, however, were to start the game against New Zealand without one of their more experienced and dangerous players, as Victoria Folayan received a two-match suspension for an incident in the game against Fiji.
Whether her absence made a difference is hard to tell. Certainly the USA battled hard in the game, playing the full 14 minutes and working diligently on defense and in tight.
But New Zealand was too smooth, too powerful, and too quick.
The opening kickoff from New Zealand didn't go ten meters so the game started with a chance for the Americans. They kept it tight and ran Jillion Potter up the gut a few times. But a loose pass to no one in particular out wide gave New Zealand the ball.
The Eagles scrambled, turned the ball over (thanks to Potter) and attacked again. But the first chapter of a key story to the game unfolded as Kelly Griffin went into a tackle with her support too far away. The result - a holding-on penalty and ball to New Zealand.
They wasted no time in going straight ahead. Carla Hohepa fended off two tacklers and handed off to Selica Winiata, and the former Minnesota Valkyrie did the rest. 7-0 New Zealand.
Once again it was Potter in the middle of all things good for the USA, but once again isolation after a promising run - this time Amelia Villines - gave New Zealand the ball. Rebekah Siebach did well in defense at sweeper, but the New Zealand support was good, and Kayla McAlister blew through a tiny gap and scored.
That was it for the first half, 14-0 New Zealand, but the USA had shown the ability to break the gain line and test the New Zealand defense. The support, however, was far too slow, and the passing just not crisp enough.
In the second half, Shakira Baker came on as a sub and immediately scored as the Eagles failed to win the kickoff. Baker, who is quick and also quite large, was too much for the American tacklers, who, by that time, were committing two and three defenders to one New Zealand attacker. Bakers scored a second, with Potter on her heels the whole way, and it was the example of Potter that helped keep the USA working hard throughout the game.
Alexis Tapsell scored with time up to cap the scoring at 31-0.
For the Americans, it wasn't all bad. They did get some opportunities with the ball, but were just isolated far, far too much in the tackle. They missed tackles, but as much, they were forced to put extra tacklers into the contact area, giving space to their opponents.
The 1-1-1 record and a place in the quarterfinals for a largely inexperienced team unfamiliar with each other, then, has to be seen as a bit of a Thanksgiving gift.
Notes: Oddly, the traditional 3-0, 2-1, 1-2, 0-3 spread of win-loss records in a pool didn't happen in any of the three women's pools in Dubai. The USA finished 1-1-1 and 2nd in Pool A. Spain finished 1-0-2, right behind 2-0-1 Russia in Pool B, with 1-1-1 England 3rd. Canada took second in Pool C with a 1-1-1 record.
With the top eight re-seeded for the quarterfinals, the matchups look like they might be as follows:
New Zealand v Brazil
Australia v England
Russia v USA
Spain v Canada