The Women’s Sevens Series continues to grow as we head to the third round in Las Vegas. New Zealand still leads the 2016/17 World Series after two rounds–Dubai and Sydney. However, competition has greatly improved as more teams continue to show marked improvements. The biggest movers so far are the two island sides, of Ireland and Fiji.
Women’s Sevens Series: The Season So Far
Las Vegas will host the third consecutive round where both Men’s and Women’s tournament will be played in the same venue over the same weekend. With the Women’s game continuing to reach new horizons attracting more interests, playing on the same venue will add more to its appeal.
With two rounds down Last Word On Rugby (LWOR) will look at some stars that have grown and added value to their sides this season, still with four rounds to go.
The Series leaders were caught wanting in Sydney by the United States side who took the game to the Kiwis. They identified the Kiwi strength and annihilated its threat especially the fleet-footed Portia Woodman. They contained her well with Alev Kelter leading the charge. Sarah Goss was isolated at times, as were playmakers Tayla Nathan-Wong and Kelly Brazier. Hopefully, the NZ girls have learned.
The Kiwi Sisters are missing the services and leadership of Kayla McAlister and the semi-retired Huriana Manuel. The Kiwis made four changes from Dubai, opting for speed rather than strength which caught them wanting. Hard running winger Shakira Baker, robust forward Rebekah Cordero-Tufua, elusive Jordon Webber and debutante Tenika Willison were all over-looked for Sydney. They were replaced by rookies Alena Saili and Renee Wickliffe while welcoming back Terina Te Tamaki and Theresa Fritzpatrick.
Two players have really shone through for the Kiwis this season. The hardworking Michaela Blyde and Rebekah Cordero-Tufua. The latter missed the trip to Sydney, but that loss to the Americans will certainly have coach Alan Bunting calling on her again. Her strength is vital to help ease the load on Goss and Ruby Tui.
Michaela Blyde (above picture) is one of those players who have really stepped up since her debut at the tender age of 17. She’s been part of the core squad in the last three seasons and is finally showing her true potential. A hard runner who runs good lines and links up well with her support players. She scored four tries in Sydney and will continue to grow as her game matures.
The Australians; like New Zealand were overwhelmed in the Cup Semifinals in Sydney to another North American side Canada. They caught them in sixes-and-sevens to spoil their debut on home soil especially as reigning Olympic and Series champs. Fijiana exploited their weakness twice in Sydney but were unable to see it off which the Canadians executed to perfection.
The Aussies are introducing three rookies this season who have shown great potential in the past seasons. They have been part of the core squad in the past season and are filling in well for the champions. Georgie Friedricks, Emma Sykes and Mahalia Murphy are utilizing every opportunity they are receiving.
Murphy is your feisty carrier of the ball, hard to contain and is quick off her feet. Friedricks gives you that added advantage going forward which will help the likes of Charlotte Caslick and Alicia Quirk. Emma Sykes will be taking over the reins from Chloe Dalton being that ‘general distributor’ soon. These ladies have lots to offer and Tim Walsh will be calling on them to continue improving as the season unfolds.
The Canadians won in Sydney overcoming United States in the final. Their biggest test was against the Aussies which they overcame with ease. Only the Canadians and the Kiwis have found ways to overcome the Aussies. It was the Canadians second victory over the series champs after Clermont.
They were disappointed by their performance in the Rio Olympics and are building for the Commonwealth Games and World Cup in 2018. Brittany Benn was in devastating form in Sydney with Charity Williams. Benn contained Elia Green of Australia and Naya Tapper really well in the penultimate rounds in Sydney.
Williams was a super substitute finishing well the hardwork of Jen Kish and Ghislaine Landry. Bianca Farella continues to impress with Kayla Moleschi, Megan Lukan, Ashley Steacy, Natasha Watcham-Roy and Julie Greenshields.
Fijiana finished fifth in both rounds of the series so far. They usually reach eighth place but this season they have finally soared. Missing three key players who have left for greener pastures these ladies are finally showing their true potential. While they still have areas to work on like consistency and how to put away games they have shown the biggest improvements. They struggled before adjusting to long travels and time zones in which they have finally grown accustomed too.
Lavenia Tinai (above picture) has come of age at rover, with her distribution, speed to finish and winning turnovers at will. Her kicking ability during restarts and conversions has improved tremendously and has been a key factor to their improvements. She has grown to be their middle general which makes you wonder why they haven’t shifted her to playmaker.
The leadership Ana Roqica continues to grow with Rusila Nagasau and Tima Ravisa leading their young brigade well. They will aim for another big finish in Vegas, they don’t have the support like their Men’s team possess back home, or internationally but yet the girls will fight on.
The Brazilians like Ireland continue to impress in every tournament. Edna Santini has really shown the biggest improvement with Paula Ishabashi and Beatriz Mulhabauer. Luis Campos, Raquel Kochchan, Haline Scarut and Amanda Araujo have been vital in their growth performing constantly, they might lack in size but they possess a never say die attitude which carries them through.
The Irish have taken their game to another level reaching the Cup quarter finals in Sydney. Aimee Leigh, Murphy Crowe continues to lead the try scoring table with her constant finishing. On the other hand Megan Williams (see image below) continues to be that silent worker who provides and defends like a woman possessed. She’s one of their unsung heroes with Stacey Flood and Louise Galvin, Susan Vaughan and Asleigh Baxter.
The Americans were impressive in Sydney after their lackluster performance in Dubai. They defeated the Kiwis while unleashing the speedy Naya Tapper. While she may have the defensive problems like Carlin Isles, she sure knows her way to the line like Isles. Alev Kelter has really grown with her captaincy role with Kelly Griffin, Joanne Faavesi, Kristen Thomas and Ryan Carlyle as leaders in the side.
Team USA rookies Cheta Emba, Bulou Mataitoga, Hope Rogers and Kate Zachary continue to shine, when given chance.
Rose Thomas stood out for them in Sydney so did Chloe Pelle, Pauline Biscarat and Lina Guerin. They are moulding in new players giving them a chance to prove their worth. Carla Niesen, Cyrille Banett, Joanna Sainlo, Mathilde Coutouly will be feature stars so as the energetic Laurelin Foucarde.
Inconsistency and poor decision making has been their main weakness, but the Fanny Horta led side will be hard to beat on their best day.
New season and plenty changes has seen England fall to its lowest in Sydney. With Amy Wilson Hardy and Emily Scarratt missing from the side, the English have found the going tough. Abbie Brown has been their shining star helping the old hands in Natasha Brennan, Heather Fischer, Jo Watmore and Alice Richardson. The new players have to step up fast to avoid more embarrassment with all teams continuing to improve.
Giant-killers Russia bring a different style of rugby when they take the field in the Women’s Series. Their game revolves around their forwards especially the lanky Baizat Khamidova (see below picture). However, they still miss the services of playmaker Nadezda Kudinova, her distribution and ability to put players through gaps has been missing from their game.
Alena Mikhaltsova was joint top try scorer with five tries in Sydney. She continues to improve in her game, her support play and determination to finish. Elena Zdrokova who is into her sixth tournament has really stepped up and works well with Marina Petrova, Kristina Seredina and Maria Prestiak. They have been consistent in the past season and on their day, Russia can beat any side–they should never be underestimated.
The Leonas are building well with Berta Garcia leading them with younger sister Patricia Garcia. They are introducing more new players into the game, with stalwarts like Barbara Pla and Maria Casado. Rookies like Olivia Fresneda, Cristina Song, Anne Fernandez together with Amaia Erbina and Maria Ribera are finally coming of age.
Inconsistency has been their Achilles heel for a longtime which they are still finding their latino remedy to. Once they heel that weakness, watch the Leonas rise to challenge more sides in 2016/17/18
LWOR – The ‘Outstanding Seven’ So Far
Michaela Blyde (NZL), Rebekah Cordero-Tufua (NZL), Megan Williams (IRE), Stacey Flood (IRE), Naya Tapper (USA), Baizat Khamidova (RUS), Lavenia Tinai (FIJ)
Most Improved Team: undoubtedly, Canada (see main picture). Their win in Sydney was a pleasure to watch, and the North American legs will be ‘theirs to lose’.
Who Will Shine Through in 2016/17?
The ultimate challenge for these teams will be how fast the new players will blend with old players. Which team will be quick to rectify its mistakes and find new innovative ways to win games? Determination, consistency, bit of lady luck on the injury front will be some vital components to shine through in the end.
The Oceania giants in New Zealand and Australia will continue to lay the foundation with the North Americans as their biggest threat. However, European sides France, England, Russia, Spain and Ireland will be the giant-killers. On the other hand, the one team that will be testing every other team’s mantle will be the Fijiana side. Like their Men’s side they have an unorthodox way of playing the game, unstructured but full of excitement with an uncanny ability to leave you in awe and wanting more.
The HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series heads to the Las Vegas Sevens in March. The combined tournament see’s the women start the weekend Friday March 3.
“Main photo credit”