In one sense the Women’s International 7s Invitational final didn’t disappoint: The USA and Canada let their border rivalry breathe in front of tens of thousands of fans. It resulted in a 14-5 decision to Canada – a disappointing result for the Americans, but even more so because the Eagles had their chances to win.
But give credit where credit’s due: Canada was the better team on the day. The players were coming off an uninspiring 21-12 semifinal win over France yesterday, according to Canada coach John Tait, and needed to coalesce into a more unified squad if they were going to take down the USA today.
“Yesterday is the past, and today we felt really prepared for this,” Canadian try scorer Mandy Marchak said. “As a team we started right from when we woke up. We meshed, came out firing and proved ourselves.”
Marchak was integral to Canada’s success, not only for the game’s first try, which resulted from an offensive overload, but for her defense out wide. Canada and the USA are extremely familiar with each other, and Marchak knew the around-the-corner speed of Vanesha McGee and Victoria Folayan. She was able to shut down the sideline … for all but one pass.
McGee closed in on the 7-0 Canadian lead doing what she does best – streaking down the sideline and shaking defenders. The team’s nicknamed McGee and Folayan “the greyhounds”.
“Everybody on the field has their job, and as a wing, that’s our job,” McGee said. “We’re supposed to look for the corner, look for the holes. Every position has something like that where there’s a lot of pressure, and obviously when you play in a big stadium you feel it a bit more.”
That pressure affected Beth Black, who missed the easy conversion in front of the posts and prevented the tie. USA 7s coach Ric Suggitt had attempted to alleviate the pressure on the flyhalf, considering she was captain until today, by naming Deven Owsiany as skipper.
Black wasn’t alone – an errant kick into touch to end the half, a slow outlet pass dislodged from a player’s grip, indecision from ballcarriers. Canada wasn’t all golden either; in fact, it wasn’t either squads’ best showing, but it was a good battle.
“We always get into it,” McGee said of the North American showdowns. “We’ve played them a lot – in 15s and 7s – so we have some history. The game itself is always different, and you never know what to expect. Both of us always come out with something different and you have to be ready for that challenge.”
McGee rued the loss, but she couldn’t hide the smile on her face. She was proud of what the USA had accomplished, finishing higher than all of 2011’s competitions.
“We went out really hard and fought from the first whistle until the end,” McGee said. “Obviously we want to score more tries, but as far as our teamwork and the way we played, I’m really proud of us and what we’ve done this weekend.”
“What a great tournament for the girls,” Suggitt added. “It’s a step forward. One of the things that helped us was the Stars & Stripes team that brought some unity to our squad. They really energized the entire group and having them with us was great.”
Suggitt confessed that it’s still too early to zero in on his top 12 players, but this tournament helped with the vetting process.
“What we have is a really good group of 24, and then another eight who are on the periphery,” Suggitt said. “We’ve got a good setup with the residency program and an excellent group of veterans who will take as much time off work as they can to help us transition through this new era in women’s rugby.”
All things considered, the USA is off to a better start than 2011, and there’s no reason to doubt the Eagles will continue to improve throughout the rest of the year. They were just so close to beginning the year with a championship.