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USA Women Almost Untouchable In Madrid On Day One

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The USA women did what was expected and dominated on Day One of Tournament One at the Madrid 7s.

Led by a strong debut from former ICEF standout Nia Tolliver, and with important contributions from the likes of Abby Gustaitis, 2017 Sorensen Award-winner Ilona Maher, and Cheta Emba, to name just three, the Eagles put a stranglehold on the opposition and looked relatively polished for a team that hadn’t played much.

USA 40 Poland 0

It turned out that Poland was a pretty useful side, but they were overmatched in their opener against the USA, even a USA team fielding some new players. The Eagles won the kickoff and spun the ball out to Emba, who used her hip to dismiss a tackler and then raced off around the corner to score. Easy as that, Emba converted her own try and it was 7-0. 

The USA restart didn’t go ten meters and that would be a feature of their day, and really their worst feature. Trying to drop that ball perfectly at 10.2 meters, they often kicked the ball only seven or so and ceded momentum to the opposition. But the USA defense was ery solid, and in this case they forced Poland back to their goal line, where Gustaitis forced a drop and Lauren Doyle gathered and was over. Nicole Heavirland was good with the kick to make the score 14-0. 

Once again the restart didn’t go 10, and this time Poland made some inroads before Maher slammed their wing into touch. From that lineout the Eagles spun it out to Tilliver, who stepped inside then outside and was gone for 50 meters and a try. That made it 21-0 with Heavirland’s conversion.

Penalties were an issue for the USA throughout this game, but their defense held nonetheless and the score held, too, at 21-0.

In the second half, simple hands out to Tolliver set her free for another try. Heavirland kicked her third conversion to make it a 28-0 USA lead. 

But once again the restart was bad. Once again the USA defense fixed the proble, with time with Kristi Kirshe loosening teeth and the ball and allowing Kris Thomas to gather and race to the corner. That was 33-0, and Emba finished the game as she started, this time grubbering through and gathering to score, and converting.

Poland had one more shot at an attack but Kirshe slammed the door and the USA had won an impressive return to play 40-0.

USA 40
Tries: Emba 2, Tolliver 2, Doyle, Thomas
Convs: Emba 2, Heavirland 3

Poland 0

USA 29 Kenya 7

The Eagles started well in this one, winning a good kickoff and getting the ball to Tolliver, who was only to happy to put a move on and take it to the house. A defensive stand set up a try from Lauren Doyle, but once again bad restarts killed the USA momentum. Only their good defense was getting them the ball back.

A nice team movement resulted in Tolliver going over for her second and a 15-0 halftime lead. 

Not really safe yet, the USA started the second half well, sending power runners Maher and Kirshe through the middle to set up Gustaitis. Nicole Heavirland converted and the Eagles were now comfortably ahead 22-0. Good thing as they gave up a long-range try right after. But the Eagles replied to finish the game off 29-7.

USA 29
Tries: Tolliver 2, Doyle, Gustaitis
Convs: Heavirland 2

Kenya 7

USA 36 Spain 0

Up against a tenacious Spanish team the USA once again sucked in defenders on one side of the field and set Tolliver free on the other. Then Emba just cruised around the outside for her third. But little mistakes started to creep into the USA effort as fatigue started to set in. 

They couldn’t quite storm over the Lions of Spain in the same way they had the previous two opponents. Well … not until Kirshe power-stepped her way through the middle to make it 15-0. Heavirland converted for a 17-0 lead with 90 seconds left in the first half. (Kirshe was lucky to get that try as she appeared to knock the ball on before she took off on her run.) But that was it for the first half as the Eagle support running started to falter and thus the passes weren’t there.

The half ended with Emba trying to go it alone and getting tackled.

This approach showed itself early in the second half, with Heavirland and Emba botching a nice odd-man rush by not thinking pass early enough. Right after that, Thomas went to the tryline but was way too high and was shoved back by the Spaniards. Finally some unselfish ball movement saw debutant Sui A’Au thunder in from 22 meters.

Heavirland’s conversion made it 24-0, and there were more tries to come. A perfect restart from Kasey McCravey showed what can happen when the restarts work. The Eagles won the ball and sent it out quickly to Thomas who sped to the corner. Then Stephanie Rovetti, who had been relatively quiet on the day, got some space and was in to finish it all over 36-0.

Overall

The USA team looked fitter, stronger, and more athletic than their opposition. Their long passing was good and their defense was truly outstanding. And it needed to be because repeatedly the Eagles gave up possession with poor restarts and a few additional errors. It’s really not good enough at the highest level; if the kickers can’t get it close to the ten-meter line, then they need to be safer, because the tradeoff, a free kick to the opposition at midfield, isn’t worth it.

Also what could have been better was the support work and the desire to pass. Too often the Eagles tried to break tackles. This was exacerbated by the fact that some players did indeed break tackles. But in the open field, they didn’t let the ball do the work as well as they could have.

On Sunday the USA team will face Russia and France, the other two strong teams in this competition. Russia’s teamwork and pace has been impressive, while France has been a revelation, elevating their game significantly. The Eagles will need that superior defense and to eliminate their errors to do well on Day Two.

 

Madrid 7s Women Standings After Day 1  
Team W L T PF PA Pd Pts
USA 3 0 0 105 7 98 9
Russia 3 0 0 112 19 93 9
France 2 1 0 109 29 80 7
Poland 1 2 0 33 92 -59 5
Spain 0 3 0 7 105 -98 3
Kenya 0 3 0 12 126 -114 3

 



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Countdown to Tokyo: United States rugby “Slow Bros”

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(KYMA, KECY/ NBC News) – Teammates can find connections in all sorts of expected ways in their sport, but some teammates bonding experiences may come as a surprise.

Specifically for two of the fastest men on the US Olympic rugby squad. A bond formed over how slow they like to take life off of the pitch.

“Slow Bros comes from how we’re the last ones out of the hotel. We’re always the last ones to get to the bus. We’re always the last ones to go to breakfast,” said Perry Baker. “We’re just always the last ones.”

Perry Baker and Carlin Isles find it funny because they know that they’re actually the “Fast Bros” on the pitch.

“What the rest of the team thinks about us is they think we’re always late,” said Isles. “That’s for sure.”

The US rugby team and the rest of the US Olympic teams strap up and head to Tokyo for the summer games in about two months with the opening ceremonies beginning on July 23rd.

It will be interesting to see if the “Slow Bros” make it to the plane on time.

As Seen on TV / Olympic Countdown / Video

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NZ v Tonga/Fiji complete International Test match schedule

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After the official World Rugby declaration on May 10, an affirmed International Test match schedule is now settled after New Zealand’s fixture list was announced to widespread approval.

With July set to be a bumper schedule for all Tier one nations, the recognition for Pacific Islands nations, Rugby Europe teams, and for the two major North American countries, it all points towards a bright future for the game. It will see rugby played from Eastern Europe to Africa, and with 25 of the 30 top-ranked sides represented.

Looking to fill their full complement of tests; due to Italy not legitimately able to travel abroad. To the satisfaction of many across the South Pacific, the positive reinforcement of the two Pacific nations, with the conditional Super Rugby licenses held by Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua the parable of awarding a Test to Tonga as well as two matches against Fiji, stands well in the positive embracement of those franchises.

When added to Georgia visiting South Africa; prior to the British and Irish Lions tour, the improved opportunities for Tier Two nations bodes well in the current World Cup cycle. With the remaining RWC2023 qualification fixtures are included in the July test window, World Rugby can certainly see an uptake of their support for the Developing Nations program, and of a more inclusive International test match schedule.

International Test match schedule confirmed, with New Zealand v Tonga/Fiji (x2)

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to cause disruption, the underpinning principle for the schedule was the fixtures agreed in San Francisco in 2017. Where it was not possible or practical to honour that schedule, the hosting rights were reversed with key arrangements met. Where this contingency has not been possible for COVID-19 reasons, World Rugby has facilitated discussions to confirm an alternative schedule for teams consisting of a minimum of two matches for unions who sought replacement fixtures.

This means that Argentina, Japan, USA, and Canada will now travel to the UK and Ireland, New Zealand will host tests against Fiji, and Georgia travels to South Africa. The Samoa versus Tonga Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifier will also be hosted over two legs in New Zealand, creating a Pacific hub in the country across the July window.

Note: included in the announcement that the New Zealand All Blacks will play Tonga on Saturday 3 July at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, for the first time in what will be a historic Test at the traditionally ‘rugby league cauldron’. The match is also a double-header with the Māori All Blacks playing Manu Samoa beforehand.

The unofficial start of the window is a rare fixture in the United Kingdom for the British and Irish Lions. They play a warm-up game against Japan that will herald a return to rugby for fans in Europe. Outside the sanctioned window, Japan will take great pride in the occasion, and it begins a whirlwind of games that lead into the full calendar [see link].

From there, sides including New Zealand take on their respective opponents. One of the key series will be Australia hosting France. It sees the team on the up – France – meet a side that did neither in 2020. The Wallabies will find this test series a key step on their path forwards under head coach Dave Rennie. Though if Les Bleus have their way, the Aussie men will feel a rebuttal from the disappointment of not claiming the Six Nations Championship.

France’s 6 Nations partners get to participate, even though the leading players will be represented in the Lions 2021 Series. It means tests for Latin and North American opposition. This will be a valuable experience for many second-tier players. And that will be where the long term benefits of this year’s International test match schedule will bring rewards. The likes of Tonga and Fiji will each hold instantaneous hopes of reward.

Fiji will challenge the All Blacks for the first time since 2011. And in the third test of New Zealand’s fixture list, Tonga plays Samoa in a RWC2023 qualifying match. The winner will be on the road to France, and it will bring a huge crowd to Hamilton in what is going to be as popular as the Springboks v Lions series will be.

So plenty to look ahead to. With as much as 18 hours of continuous International rugby planned for dates like July 10 and 17, it will satisfy every taste and global rugby fan.

 

 

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Ireland’s Sevens speedsters shine in warm-up

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Speedsters shine in Sevens warm-up

The Ireland men’s squad warmed up for the Olympics Sevens Repêchage qualifier in Monaco on June 19th-20th by taking in a triangular tournament with the hosts, Team GB and the USA at English football’s national training facility, St George’s Park. The matches were played on the Gary Lineker pitch.

The Irish Women’s Sevens team were also involved in a three-cornered competition at the same venue, involving Team GB and France. The format was the same for both men’s and women’s events, two matches per day on Saturday, Sunday and today (Monday).

It gave Anthony Eddy, the director of women’s and Seven’s rugby, the chance to appraise the national squads in their first blowouts of the year but particularly the men’s squad who are vying for a place at the Tokyo Olympics.

Ireland have been drawn in a pool including Sevens heavyweights, Samoa, along with Tonga, Zimbabwe and Mexico, while the other pool contains France, Hong Kong, Chile, Uganda and Jamaica. The top two in each pool qualify in semi-finals with only the winner going to Tokyo.

The tournament in England was therefore invaluable preparation and having lost narrowly to the hosts Ireland squeaked past a star studded USA team, perennial winners on the elite circuit, 12-10 but on the Sunday morning produced an even better performance by racing into a 31-0 against the Americans before the latter scored two late tries.

That game produced a couple of standout moments, the first a coming together of Ireland’s speedster Jordan Conroy, the most recent leading try scorer on the elite Sevens circuit, and Carlin Isles, who has run 10.13 for the 100 metres. Conroy’s handoff left Isles on the ground so the anticipated footrace never materialised.

The second centred on Ulster’s former schoolboy sprint sensation Aaron Sexton who stood up USA Eagles and Sevens wing Martin Iosefo and then burned him on an outside break. A young Irish squad included Munster prospects Jack Crowley and Alex Kendellen and UCD’s Gavin Mullin alongside Sevens stalwarts Billy Dardis and the outstanding Terry Kennedy.

Number of the week

14 – The number of points that Rainbow Cup north table toppers Benetton have amassed following three straight victories in the tournament. The Italians are the only unbeaten side in the tournament and their final two matches are at home to Connacht and away to the Ospreys.

Quote of the week

“Would you shut up” – An exasperated Mike Adamson’s exhortation was picked up by the microphones at the RDS during Leinster’s win over Ulster. The Scottish official appeared to direct his comment towards an unidentified Leinster player judging by the way he looked back over his shoulder.

When is a captain’s challenge not a captain’s challenge?

When is a captain’s challenge not a captain’s challenge under the new laws adopted for the Rainbow Cup? The answer based on the evidence of what happened at the RDS last Friday night is when the referee, in this case Scotland’s Mike Adamson, believed that the challenge originated from sources outside the playing group on the pitch.

Leinster captain Luke McGrath wanted the officials to review a high tackle incident in the last passage of play as the home side chased a fourth try and a bonus point. Adamson declined the request suggesting that the material for the challenge had been communicated to McGrath via the team doctor. Instead he blew for the end of the match.

The germane part of the amended law states: “The Captain’s Challenge will be applied more broadly from the 75-minute mark in any match at which point the captain, provided they have not already lost their Challenge, can use it to check any whistled decision regardless of whether a try has been scored. Injury time is included in the post 75-minute period.”

There are a number of supplementary clauses but none governs how a captain sources a challenge. Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said in the immediate aftermath: “I still don’t know what the process is. I didn’t talk to the referee so I’ll go and ask, because I’m not even sure myself. As we know, I think it’s having a few teething issues. I’ll ask the question as to what is the correct process.”

Kelly extends Leicester stay

Ireland Under-20 international Dan Kelly signed a contract extension with the Leicester Tigers last month to extend his stay at Welford Road. The 19-year-old Loughborough student was a member of Noel McNamara’s Irish 20s side that won three matches before the 2020 Six Nations was suspended and then cancelled.

The reason that he linked up with the Tigers – he started in the centre for them at the weekend in the win over Harlequins – in the first place was so that he could continue his studies at Loughborough. The IRFU had offered him an academy place in Ireland.

Having played for the Irish 20s a year young he is eligible for this year’s tournament which takes place in Cardiff starting next month. A complication from an Irish perspective is that he may not be released by the Tigers given his recent first team status and won’t have spent any/sufficient time with the Irish training group.

Kelly formed a brilliant midfield partnership with Hayden Hyde for the Irish 20s but the latter who is London born has left the Ulster academy to return to boyhood club Harlequins in London. Irish rugby would have looked to retain both but may possibly end up with neither as playing Under-20s rugby for one country doesn’t preclude you from switching allegiance to another.

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