Australia has finished day one at the final round of the HSBC World Series in Clermont-Ferrand with a hard fought 20-17 victory over France giving it a clean sweep of the Pool matches.
Following their 35-5 win over Fiji and 41-0 thrashing over Spain earlier in the day, the Aussies knew France would prove a tougher opponent having faced them in the Bronze medal match in Langford.
The host got off to a fast start putting the first score on the board through Montserrat Amedee but Sharni Williams quickly pulled back that lead to level the scores.
From there, the game see-sawed on the scoreboard with tries from both sides being scored through to the final siren.
Amedee chalked up a double after a quick-thinking turnover deep in Australia’s half which was again countermanded by Cassie Staples who had a good day finding the line.
Emilee Cherry scored her fourth for the tournament right on the half-time break to give Australia a 15-12 lead.
Alicia Quirk, who played well all day, found some space and scored the Aussies’ fourth try but the French were not done and Shannon Izar fell over the line to close the gap to three points, but it was too little, too late for the French.
Coach Tim Walsh was pleased with the strong scoring efforts from the team while still holding its opposition well in defence.
“We had a fantastic start against Spain, very clinical in the way we executed the game plan but the big thing was the defence,”- Tim Walsh
“We took that into the Fiji (game) and showed some really good resilience in that defensive line.”
Walsh admitted the French exposed them a little in the defensive area through some good work at the breakdown and knows they must remain strong in that area if they are to go on and win this tournament.
While he thought several of the players put in big performances, it was Alicia Quirk who impressed him on the first day.
“I thought the standout player was Alicia Quirk, she’s a bit of a quiet achiever but she just organises the game really well and has worked hard on her defence. She does all the little things really well,” said Walsh.
Australia secured the top spot in Pool C with earlier wins over Spain and Fiji while France placed second with its two wins from three.
Day one saw Australia run in 16 tries with a healthy competition emerging between the master and the apprentice where Emilee Cherry added to her century plus tally while Cassie Staples has just started building hers.
Australia will play the USA in its Cup Quarter Final and Tim Walsh believes that while it will not be easy, his team has what it takes to get the job done at the first hurdle on day two.
“They’re a physical team with some speed to burn so we’re going to have to be on our game, but I think player to player we’ve got their measure,” he said.
In other results
New Zealand and Canada also finished the day undefeated reflecting the status at the top of the Series’ standings but neither had it all their own way at the final hurdle.
New Zealand was tested by a determined USA finishing their match with just a five point margin. While Canada was pushed throughout its match against Russia which was closer than the final 26-14 scoreline suggests.
England, fielding a young relatively inexperienced side in this final tournament, was again dominated by its opposition posting just the one win for the day finishing bottom of Pool B.
That group had everyone guessing right to the last match. Brazil had a boost in confidence in its second game with its first ever win over Russia and then went on to push England to the final siren, while Russia gave Canada a scare in their last game of the day.
Fiji was perhaps a little disappointing given it needs to do well to have the chance of securing a qualification spot in the 2018 Sevens World Cup out of this season’s final standings.
Finishing third in Pool C with one win, Fijiana has nevertheless secured a quarter-final berth but will have to overcome the Kiwi powerhouse to get into the semi-finals.
The Cup quarter-finalists are Canada, Ireland, Australia, USA, Russia, France, New Zealand and Fiji.
So it looks like the battle for second place honours in the Series will go down to the wire with the quarter finals on day two as crucial as ever.
But Tim Walsh is feeling confident in his team.
“We’ve come here today and got the job done and we’re going to take the positives from that and deliver tomorrow.”
Australia's quarter-final against the USA on Sunday at 8.22pm AEST.
All matches are being streamed LIVE on WorldRugby.org
FoxSports Ch501 will broadcast the finals from 2.30am - 5.00am