The Australian Women’s Sevens team started Day Two in front of a home crowd which had expectations of the way the day should play out for their ‘golden girls’ – expectations perhaps shared by the team itself.
In a rematch of their final pool game, the Aussies ran out against Fijiana in the Cup quarter final prepared for another bruising encounter.
The lone first half try came from Ellia Green – her fourth for the tournament and the crowd was on its collective feet.
An early second half try to Caslick extended Australia’s lead until Merewai Cumu pulled it back with Fiji’s first.
Nerves that come with a seven point difference in the closing minute of a sevens game were quickly subdued when Sharni Williams scored Australia’s third try to seal the victory and a semi-final appearance. Australia winning 17-5 and Fiji relegated to a 5th Place semi-final.
In a resurgence of form, Canada also advanced to the semis with a convincing win over Russia 26-5, setting up a meeting with the competition hosts that got the crowd excited.
The other contenders to advance were USA and New Zealand and the semi-finals looked set to bring back memories of old rivalries.
As Oceania took on the Americas the results in both matches took the crowd’s breath away.
The Black Ferns were outplayed by the USA not scoring a try in the first half. Two late tries by Whata-Simpkins and Nathan-Wong had the kiwis closing the gap, but the clock was against them and the USA secured a path to the Cup Final with a 19-12 win.
The biggest shock though was still to come as Australia ran out on the field to a deafening roar with the crowd showing the partisan leanings.
Ellia Green landed the first try with her characteristic dive, to the crowd’s delight.
But when Jen Kish responded with Canada’s first and Brittany Benn added another to take the half-time score to 7-12, the task ahead for the Aussies looked harder than expected.
The biggest shock in the final result was that the half-time score had not changed. While that is rare in a game of sevens at this level, it is almost unheard of for the champion Australian team.
Tim Walsh was simply devastated.
“They gave it everything but it wasn’t good enough. We made some crucial errors and got punished for it,” he said.
“ We had glimpses of what we’re good at but it’s not enough in a World Series.”
Walsh admitted the players had felt the pressure of performing well at this inaugural home tournament.
“They can get some growth out of it but it simply wasn’t good enough today,” he said.
Co-captain Shannon Parry agreed with Walsh.
“Playing on home soil you want to put out a good performance but that's no excuse for that result. We had our opportunities in the last two minutes, we just couldn't execute,” she said.
The shock loss by the Aussies in the semi-final was compounded by a clean sheet defeat at the hands of the Kiwis in the Bronze medal match – the final score 19-0.
Canada reminds the top two it is still a contender
The Cup Final between Canada and the USA was a close contest but in the end Canada won 21-17 and was crowned the 2017 and first Sydney 7s Women’s champions.
Canada went out hard with two tries for the first half to the opposition’s single. But holding a seven point lead at half-time, it looked the stronger of the two teams.
The USA pushed them in the second half adding two more of their own but the lesson was learned about kicking accurately with the second half tries going unconverted.
Coach John Tait was pleased for his team after a below par to the season in Dubai.
There is no doubt that over the first two rounds of the HSBC Women’s World Rugby Sevens Series, the foundations were laid, in the eyes of many, for a continuing battle for supremacy between the Tasman neighbours.
But the beauty of the game of sevens is its unpredictability and there are several teams looking to challenge the current and former World Series champions.
The Women will next compete in Las Vegas in March and the competition for points will be even more vital.
In the World Series standings Canada has moved to be within two points of Australia, in third place, while Fiji has moved into fourth position.
🌎 The series standings for the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series look like this ⬇️⬇️⬇️ pic.twitter.com/FoGLrtDzyY— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) February 4, 2017