New Zealand Win Kitakyushu 7s as Fijiana Reach Debut Semi Final

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NZL win K7s
KITAKYUSHU, JAPAN - APRIL 23: Players of New Zealand celebrate on the podium after winning the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series 2016/17 Kitakyushu cup final between Canada and New Zealand at Kitakyushu Stadium on April 23, 2017 in Kitakyushu, Japan. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

The fourth round of the 2016/17 HSBC Women’s Sevens Series came to an end at the Mikuni World Stadium, where New Zealand win the Kitayushu 7s. In a tough final against Canada, the Kiwi team won 17-14 to claim a third title for the year.

The two day tournament was a huge success, both on and off the field. A trial match, in the nation who will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and by all accounts it was a fantastic event.

Along with the great setting, the play on the pristine field was up to the usual high standards of the Women’s World Series. And at the Kitakyushu 7s, new heroes have been unearthed, such was the talent on show as the sport continues to grow.

Day Two drew many familiar names, but with several key results that will bring smiles to fans faces. That included the Fiji women’s team. Fijiana had a fantastic Day One, but on the second day of competition, the sides dreams came true as they first reached their debut semi final–and while that game went against them, playing in a Bronze medal playoff is the highest achievement by the team ever.

New Zealand Win Kitakyushu 7s

New Zealand 17 Canada 14

It was a cracker of a game, with thrills and spills that had all the elements of a classic final. With the ever evolving game of Women’s rugby sevens, the two sides put on a show worthy of an Olympic final. It was tit-for-tat right till the death, where the Kiwis had the skill and experience to take the Kitakyushu 2017 title.

New Zealand had to dig deep to stop the Canadian girls from winning their countries second title in two weeks [after the men won in Singapore]. It was a nail biting win 17-14 and a fitting climax to a great weekend.

The ‘darling’ of the Canadian side, Hannah Darling wiggled her side into the lead after some outrageous opening minutes of interplay. However, big Niall (the sister of Sonny Bill) Williams took advantage of a Ghislaine Landry pass, to level scores at the breather.

Sevens Sisters Wing It At the Death

The Canadians took the lead after their two most experienced players; Landry and Jen Kish combined perfectly to extend their lead 14-7. It was nerve wrecking stuff, as the clock began to countdown the minutes. Some thoughts went back to the Singapore Sevens final last weekend, where the Canadian Men’s team overcame the Kiwi men.

But no, with only seconds remaining ‘HSBC Player of the Final’ Portia Woodman locked up the scores. It was then do-or-die from then on, and the World Series’ top try scorer of the season Michaela Blyde, stepped up to give the victory to the Kiwis.

With that thrilling end, the series leading Sevens Sisters of New Zealand broke into celebration. The emotion and relief was evident, and when asked how she felt after the game, Woodman said “That was incredibly hard. Canada have been on point all day.

“I don’t know why we like to leave it to the last minute but we got there.”

“We’re buggered, lungs are blowing, legs are tired, it was hard,” she told worldrugby.org.com. Renamed ‘the Bullet Train’ by commentator Willie Lose, Woodman has scored over 140 tries and over 700 points now on the women’s circuit. Amazing!

Canada had been relentless all weekend, and it could have gone their way with just the bounce of the ball. Julia Greenshields has really shone through this weekend, so too did Bianca Farella and of course, Hannah Darling.

Day Two: The LOWDOWN

Fijiana Reach Debut Semi Final

Fiji came to Japan with a mission to secure their first ever semi finals appearance, and they did that in fantastic fashion. Being consistent in their performance all season, this weekend was another stepping stone upward and the groups biggest achievement.

Viniana Riwai of Fiji reacts after scoring a try during the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2016/17 Kitakyushu quarter final between Fiji and USA at Kitakyushu Stadium on April 23, 2017 in Kitakyushu, Japan. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Ana Maria Roqica has led her side well, with Rusila Nagasau, Lavenia Tinai and Tima Ravisa all giving it 100%. Their game is build around those core team members, with Priscilla Sita and Talica Vodo adding their experience when needed. They have now built-up strong combinations, explore new strategies and plays, and seem more able to execute when needed.

Plenty work is still needed but the fruits are there for all to see. They may not have the rockstar appeal that their Men’s side enjoys–no $7 dollar note will be printed for them, yet–but they do punch above their weight to tell the World “if they can, so can we.’

Incredible Performance from Fiji Women to Reach Playoff

Raijeli Daveua took on the Charlotte Caslick led side, to score Fiji’s first try. The Fijiana side had the Aussies working overtime to begin with, taking advantage of the battered Aussie girls. Playing without Elia Green and Evania Pelite; injuries had crept into the Olympic champion side. Knowing this was their chance, when Cumu scored at the hooter to add to their lead 12-0, the fans back in Fiji will have hit the roof in celebrations.

After the restart, Dominque Du Toit scored for the Aussies to narrow the deficit  7-12. Lavenia Tinai got one back for the Fijians to extend their lead out to 17-7. It was looking very good for Fijiana until Demi Hayes replied soon after, with a converted try 14-17. From there it was the experience of Chloe Dalton that took on the Fiji defense up the tramline, to win the game for them 19-17.

Such an incredible game, the first at this high level, the experience will benefit Fiji more so than anyone can predict. The confidence will be elevated, and they will want more of these placings to reach their dreams.

Zdrokova Helps Russia Finish Fifth in Japan

The Russians saved the best for last, as they slaughtered the English 31-0 to finish fifth. After their Cup quarter finals loss to Canada, they redeemed themselves against France 26-5 in the semis, to set up the finale with the struggling English Roses.

Elena Zdrokova scored on the hooter to give the Russians a 7-0 lead at halftime. Maria Brestiak extended their lead to 14-0. Their direct approach the middle worked for them as the English defense was caught napping. Alena Mikhaltsova caught their defense wanting again for the Russians to lead 19-0. Baizat Khamidova was instrumental for their fourth try as she fed Zdrokova from the lineout to extend their lead 24-0. Young Daria Nortsina wrapped up the onslaught for the final score 31-0.

The English have a lot of work to do, and with two rounds to go, the ball is in their court. They have the players, depth and technical know-how to win. Building combinations and execution is lacking which is why they are struggling.

Kelter Inspires Unites States to claim seventh place

United States overcame their shock loss to Fijiana in the Cup quarters, to finish seventh in Japan. They defeated a ‘lost’ Les Bleus side 31-14. Kristen Thomas turned provider for Kelly Griffin to open the scoring for the Americans. From the restart Alev Kelter fed Griffin again for her second, to extend their lead 12-0.

Soon Naya Tapper benefited from a Nikki Snyder turnover, to extend the Americans lead but Jade Le Pesq got one back for the French.  Tapper grabbed her brace on the halftime hooter for the Eagles to lead 24-7.

Like Madison Hughes with the Men’s team, Kelter was on point with her kickoffs as they scored from the kick to extend their lead 31-7. Superb skill, and in the final scoring play, Lenaig Corson grabbed Le Bleus’s second try. Not enough, as they trailed 14-31.

It was always going to be a tough ask, with Fanny Horta missing from the run-on side, for the French to show up. This week it was clear how valuable and instrumental Horta is to the side, that in her absence they appear to be ‘lost in transition’.

Ireland Claims Challenge Trophy

Players of Ireland celebrate victory after the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2016/17 Kitakyushu challenge trophy final between Ireland and Spain at Kitakyushu Stadium on April 23  (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

After the disappointment of Day One, the Irish side ‘turned up the heat’ on Day Two. They claimed the Challenge Trophy with both hands, as they the Spanish team 26-7.

In a great day for the girls from the Emerald Isles, they overcame Brazil in the semi finals, while the Spanish brushed aside hosts Japan. Ireland defeated Brazil 24-5 while Spain piped Japan 14-5.

The Brazilians finished 11th place, after their narrow victory over Japan 12-10. However, they still occupy the bottom spot and with two rounds to go, need a miracle. Three points separates them and Spain at the bottom of the table, with the losing dropping their core-status. Two rounds to go, so one team must get a big break, or suffer the consequences.

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Kitakyushu 7s Honorary Accolades:

DHL Impact Player Of The Tournament

Going into the final two rounds, it is Russia’s Alena Mikhaltsova leading the way overall. She is chased hard by Lucy Mulhall and Kelly Brazier, for the end of season 2016/17 Player of the Series award (tbc).

Kitakyushu 7s MVP Players

2016/17 HSBC Womens Sevens Series Table

Kitakyushu 7s Day Two Results:

Cup Quarterfinals results: Australia 19 France 12 | Canada 41 Russia 0 | Fiji 26 USA 19 | New Zealand 21 England 5
Cup Semifinals results: Australia 0 Canada 33 New Zealand 21– Fiji 0
Fifth Place* Semi final results: France 5 Russia* 26 | United States 24 England 26

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The next round on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series circuit is the Victoria Sevens, in Langford, Canada. May 27-28

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