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.
Tries: Emba 2, Tolliver 2, Doyle, Thomas
Convs: Emba 2, Heavirland 3
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.
Tries: Tolliver 2, Doyle, Gustaitis
Convs: Heavirland 2
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.
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