The USA won their pool after a 19-12 decision over France during the third round of the Women’s International 7s Invitational. The Eagles finished with three wins that included earlier victories against Japan (17-5) and Maple Leafs (26-7).
The USA took some lessons from their previous games to heart, and didn’t let France get the early edge. In the first two rounds, Japan very nearly scored in the corner hadn’t Vanesha McGee held up the try, and the Maple Leafs scored first in round two. In those games, the USA had to match the intensity of their opponents, but the Eagles set the pace against France.
“We’ve been in training at the OTC and then here on site for a couple of weeks,” USA’s CJ Hildreth said. “We’ve been working on our focus and intensity, bringing it to every minute of our practices, and I think it showed in our games.”
The first try was a beauty and occurred after a methodic working of the sidelines. From a penalty, Daniels got her shoulders past the outside two defenders and created some room for Teena Mastrangelo, who burned down the touchline. Just as she was dragged down, Emilie Bydwell hollered for the ball, got the offload and dotted down the try beneath the post. Beth Black slotted the conversion for the 7-0 lead.
The USA pushed it to a 14-0 lead when after a series of phases in France’s end, Kelly Griffin standing in the flyhalf position split defenders in the middle of the field, skipped out of a tackle, and dotted down. Black’s conversion made it 14-0.
The USA offense hit a nice stride, but the defense still needed a little work. France pulled within seven just before the halftime buzzer, when Les Bleus took advantage of an overload and stiffarmed their way past defenders.
“In training we’ve been talking about getting low, getting the legs wrapped, as well as hitting high to prevent offloads, which are so dangerous in sevens,” Hildreth said. “We have to identify the players who we really need to strike well. Some of the bigger, more powerful players, you don’t have a choice which of those two tackles you need to use.”
Into the second half, and France pulled within two points when what should have been an opportunity for a turnover turned into a 70-meter breakaway for Les Bleus. A few phases later, and France dove through some traffic for the score, 14-12.
Vanesha McGee replaced Vix Folayan a couple of minutes into the half, and true to pattern, she scored on her first touch of the game. It might seem uncanny that Folayan and McGee have replicated that feat in all three games, but Hildreth assures it’s all part of the design.
“It’s fresh legs,” Hildreth said of the USA wings, “and we pound, pound, pound in the middle to try and open it up for them. So it’s a strategic use of our superb athletic talent.
McGee and Folayan were also integral on defense and not only helped prevented long breaks down the sideline, but also cut across the field for a try-saving tackle.
“We’ve been working to keep that tight wall in the middle of the field,” Hildreth said. “There are a couple of teams that showed they can step, which you of course see from teams like New Zealand and Australia, but you don’t necessarily expect from Japan. They’re little speedy girls and they showed that to us. So we tightened it up in the middle of the field – you haven’t seen many breaks through the midfield – and we have the pace to get them on the outside; that’s been proven.
Folayan and McGee earned Hildreth’s nod on the day.
“A shoutout to our two greyhounds, Vix and Vanesha,” Hildreth said. “They’ve been playing amazingly and I think they’ve scored a try in every game. To do that repeatedly, when the crowd is watching them, when the coaches are watching them, and other teams are looking to shut them down, that’s powerful play.”
The USA finished second in the overall standings, trailing Canada on point differential. The Netherlands and France will join the North Americans in tomorrow’s Cup semifinals.