The Plate division is always an interesting competition. During Plate semifinals, teams that have just had their Cup dreams dashed must buck up and keep competing. At the Atlanta 7s, the USA and England saw each other after disappointing Cup quarterfinal results. The Roses were healing from an overtime loss to Australia, while the Eagles had let Canada pull away during the second half of their quarterfinal.
But it was the USA that decided that it was still going to compete, and the Eagles beat England 19-5 for a trip to the Plate final against Spain.
"It's almost a little better being the underdogs sometimes, because you know you have everything to prove and nothing to lose," USA's Kelly Griffin said. "So you can go out there and focus on your game, focus on the fundamentals, and really push the pedal to the metal."
Deven Owsiany put in a couple of thumping hits early, and the rest of her team followed suit on the physicality front. England committed a couple of breakdown penalties, and the USA found themselves attacking from the five meter. The Roses turned the ball over but an errant pass put the ball on the ground, and Amelia Villines was there to prevent the easy pick-up. Griffin scooped it up and hit Jessica Javelet, who won the race to the corner. Griffin sent a line-drive over the crossbar, from about five meters off the touchline, 7-0.
Javelet mimics Vix Folayan, both of whom can turn an inch of room on the sideline into a lane to the try zone. No sooner had the USA established a lead and Javelet was logging try number two, somehow taking the corner around Michaela Staniford. Griffin was good on the conversion, 14-0.
"JJ’s a great addition to the team," Griffin said of Javelet. "That was her fifth rugby game so it’s really great that she’s been able to step it up and bring her experience from other sports and be a real threat out there."
England answered off the restart, offloading in contact until a flip-pass from Abigail Chamberlain put Amy Wilson-Hardy away for the try, 14-5 into the break.
England returned to the field with some renewed confidence, and that's where the USA defense needed to step in.
"We had too many defensive holes," Griffin reflected on the previous games, "so we really wanted to stay together on defense, come up together, and if one person goes in for that big hit, then have everybody go in with them to get their back and cover the passing lanes."
The USA was the first to threaten the try line, although an unrealized overload out wide turned into a turnover. But England was driven into touch, and Villines did a great job of reining in a batted lineout throw. The ball swung wide quickly, and again, Javelet squeezed down the sideline for her third try, 19-5.
"I wish I knew because we could have done it a lot sooner if I knew what the key was," Griffin said to turning around the team's performance. "That game just felt so much better than the other games, so hopefully we can keep that momentum into the next one."
The next and final one is against Spain in the Plate final. The two have a lengthy history, and the Eagles have traditionally come out on top.
"Seems like we’re always playing Spain and it’s always really fun and really close, so either way it’s going to be a blast," Griffin concluded.
The Plate final kicks off at 6:12 p.m. ET.