Australia win Oceania Women's Sevens title
Ella Green was the hero with four tries in the final as hosts Australia were crowned Oceania Women's Sevens champions with a 22-10 win over Fiji in the final in Noosa on Sunday.
It was a fitting end to an intriguing day of rugby that saw world champions New Zealand bundled out at the semi-final stage by a Fijiana outfit determined to build on their performances at Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow earlier this year.
It was a far more nervous Fiji team in the final compared to that which so skilfully ended New Zealand's campaign in the semi-final, and Australia capitalised with two tries to take a 10-0 half time lead. The big game experience of Australia shone through in the first half as they simply starved Fiji of possession and cut space to reduce their opponent's attacking opportunities.
A third try at the beginning of the second half gave Australia what appeared to be a match winning 15-0 lead, only for the Fijiana to respond with two quick tries to close the gap to 15-10 to ensure the crowd were on their feet for the final three minutes.
Green, who had an impressive tournament and finished as both the top try and point scorer, though crossed for her and Australia's fourth try in the dying minutes to put the match beyond doubt.
"That’s a great launching pad for the IRB Women's Sevens World Series," said Australia coach Tim Walsh. "I was particularly pleased with the squad as a whole over the past two days, the girls who came off the bench had an impact which was pleasing."
Contemplating the selection dilemma that lies ahead for the new coach as he prepares for the IRB Women's Sevens World Series, Walsh appeared happy with the predicament.
"We brought a young developmental team here to Noosa – and when you win a tournament like this girls put their hand up for selection for the big tournaments. We’ll take another young team to the Asia-Pacific Sevens in China and then get ready for the opening tournament of the World Series."
Walsh, like his New Zealand counterpart Sean Horan, was impressed with the improvement of the Pacific Island teams – and Fiji in particular - at this tournament.
"The improvement of Fiji from last year’s Oceania Champs is incredible," said Walsh. "They’re playing much more like we expect Fiji teams to play – they’re fit and they're big and they are better skilled. It’s great for Oceania and it makes our region so much more interesting. It’s great for the women’s game."
Fijiana coach Timoci Wainiqolo was happy with the statement his team made at the Oceania Sevens and is looking ahead to Fiji’s first appearance in the Dubai leg of the Women’s Sevens World Series tournament in late November.
"Dubai will be tough – not only with the Oceania teams but all the best teams from around the world – but we will also be tough. We need more tournaments against teams like this so the girls build their belief, because as we showed this weekend, they can match it with the best."
In the final itself, Wainiqolu lamented the slow start of his young team. "That was a slow start for us, not a proper start, and we lacked energy at the beginning of the match."
In the first semi-final Australia were always in control against a physical but fatigued Samoan outfit. Emilee Cheery scored two of the hosts' six tries in a comfortable 30-0 victory.
Not so comfortable was the second semi-final between New Zealand and Fiji with the Pacific Islanders recording a famous 17-10 win over the world champions. Both teams played out an entertaining match in the final game of day one – a match New Zealand won 26-12 – and the semi-final lived up to all expectations.
It was a classic game of Sevens rugby. Two tries gave the Pacific Islanders a 12-0 half-time lead but an early second half try by Shiray Tane brought the New Zealanders back into the match.
The resolve of the Fijians was impressive though and a try by Litia Naiqato extended their lead to 17-5 with three minutes remaining.
In a thrilling climax Fiji held out and despite a late try to New Zealand captain Sarah Goss booked their place in a first Oceania Sevens final.
"The girls played with their heart and for their country," insisted Wainiqolo after the semi-final. "I told the girls last night after the pool rounds that they are the same as New Zealand and Australia – believe in your heart and do it for your country and you can beat them ... and that’s what they did."
New Zealand bounced back to finish on a high with a 47-5 win over Samoa to finish third with Michaela Blyde crossing for five tries in the match.
Day 2 Results
Australia 30-0 Samoa
New Zealand 10-17 Fiji
New Zealand 47-5 Samoa
Australia 22-10 Fiji
Day 1 Results
Papua New Guinea 0-48 New Zealand
Australia 26-0 Fiji
Samoa 7-7 Papua New Guinea
Australia 19-7 New Zealand
Australia 48-0 Papua New Guinea
Samoa 0-31 Fiji
New Zealand 43-0 Samoa
Fiji 54-0 Papua New Guinea
Samoa 5-40 Australia
New Zealand 26-12 Fiji