The USA Women 7s defeated Russia 12-5 in the opening round of the London Invitational 7s. A very encouraging start for the Eagles, and the score belies the amount of possession and territory the USA owned.
Right from the opening kickoff, it was clear that the USA wanted to turn any time spent in Russian territory – whether on offense or defense – into a scoring opportunity. Vix Folayan was right on top of Sadie Anderson’s kickoff, and after a couple of nice hits in the ruck, the ball belonged to the USA. It worked wide to Nathalie Marchino, who opted for a grubber into the try zone (it went long), but the point was made: The Eagles were gunning for turnovers in the ruck.
Scrumhalf Deven Owsiany (a personnel departure from regular halfback Katie Dowty) was particularly crucial in the breakdowns and delivered some nice, quick hits to get Russia off the ball. Four-and-a-half minutes into the half, the pressure paid off, as Russia was penalized on their 22 meter. Anderson quick-tapped, shipped the ball to prop Jill Potter, who sucked in two defenders for a few meters, and gave Christy Ringgenberg a little running room. The hooker moved the ball to wing Folayan , who took the corner for the try. Anderson made a superb sideline conversion into the wind for the 7-0 lead (followed by an ear-to-ear grin that made the commentator chuckle).
The first half was mostly played in Russia’s end, on or near their 22 meter. Russia’s wing (unconfirmed, but looked like Ekaterina Kazakova) had some success out wide, using a nice little step and good breakaway speed to evade the defense. Vanesha McGee, however, didn’t let anyone get past her at sweeper, although Russia knocked on two of their best breakaways.
With little time remaining, Folayan was helped off the field with an injury and Dowty replaced her at wing. The USA had an attacking scrum on Russia’s 22 meter, Anderson got a clean outlet pass, broke left, and deked the pass to Dowty to get within meters. Ball shipped to Owsiany, who was alone on the weakside. With no one in support, there was only one option: Muscle over. And she did. Anderson got good distance on the second two-point opportunity but it sailed wide, 12-5.
With a few seconds left in the half, one more kickoff was allowed. Russia attempted to run it out of their end, and had a good opportunity when awarded a penalty, but Potter planted a massive, open-field hit that sent Russia scrambling backward and killing momentum.
The second half began just as eagerly. From the kickoff, the Eagles worked a methodical sideline-to-sideline offense – nothing too fancy, just wide enough and quick enough to keep Russia bending. The drive ended near the Russian 22 after a knock-on, but the Americans were in comfortable territory.
Again, the pressure paid dividends, as the USA sent Russia retreating in the subsequent scrum, and although the offense had a shot at putting their speedy wing into space, the pass out wide skittered into touch.
But Russia wasn’t all mistakes. On a few occasions, they exposed the USA’s vulnerability in finishing tackles in open space, and another break around the corner put the pressure on McGee to clean up previous errors. The sweeper caught the ballcarrier and helped force another knock-on in contact.
The USA was penalized in the next scrum, and Russia quickly sent the ball to their most successful ballcarrier on the wing. She came through once again, stepping around Marchino into the corner, 12-5.
Had there been a little more time left, Russia might have been able to come back, as the USA was penalized on the next kickoff. But the USA got the kick into touch to end the game.
In summary, the USA looked great in the breakdowns, using disruption to their advantage and forcing Russia to err. Only minor mistakes marred the offense – a knock-on here, missed switch there, but nothing major. There were also some interesting personnel changes – Owsiany at scrumhalf, Ringgenberg at hooker – that worked well.
The only danger area was finishing tackles out wide. Russia was able to fend or step around the USA at times, but fortunately, McGee is a sound sweeper and second layer of defense.
The USA have Ireland next. Canada defeated the Six Nations championship 22-5 in their opening games. The North Americans face each other at 12:50 p.m. ET.
Lineup: 1. Vanesha McGee, 2. Christy Ringgenberg (Kelly Griffin), 3. Jill Potter, 4. Deven Owsiany (Kimber Rozier), 5. Sadie Anderson, 6. Nathalie Marchino, 7. Vix Folayan (Katie Dowty).
Tries: Folayan, Owsiany