England top USA in Houston Sevens Cup Final

from USA Rugby:

It was a good final effort, but England turned too many of the USA’s mistakes into points and won the Houston 7s with a 29-12 victory.

There’s really two storylines here. The grander of the two is the tremendous rebound the Americans made from Dubai to today. Their 18 points propelled them three spots up the series standings, from ninth to sixth and ahead of Canada. They’re only two points behind South Africa and Russia, both of which the USA defeated over the past two days.

The more immediate storyline is that the USA didn’t peak in their final game against England, but the same can be said for the Roses. Sixth game, two days, 10-minute halves – that’s not a recipe for perfection. The game was heavily dependent on who made the fewest mistakes, and the favorable tally rested on England’s end.

The Roses quieted the hometown crowd, as they raced out to two quick scores within three minutes. England pressured the kickoff and kept their own ball, then spread the field nicely and capitalized on the overload when it arose. Stars Joanne Watmore and Michaela Staniford accounted for the two tries and 10-0 lead.

But just when it looked like the game might get out of hand, the USA tore up the sideline as Vanesha McGee and Kelly Griffin linked up near the sideline. Staniford did well to prevent the try, but she incurred a penalty in the cover tackle. Nathalie Marchino was there – as she was all tournament – for the quick tap and attacked the weakside. Griffin was back on her feet and hitting the line at pace for Marchino’s offload and the try, 10-5.

That score definitely lifted the Eagles’ spirits, as did the monster hit that Vix Folayan planted on eventual tournament MVP Heather Fisher on the next kickoff. If Folayan was just a second later and Fisher able to sidestep the hit, then it might have been another try, as two Roses awaited the pass unguarded. But Folayan did make the hit, and Fisher knocked on the ball.

England found themselves deep in their own end, but they settled down with a lineout in their favor. The Roses’ lineouts are so sharp, and their ballcarriers run so hard, that even running out of their 22 meter is intimidating.

Except to Marchino. Just before the final pass to the wing, Marchino put herself in the perfect position for the intercept (she’d end with three important intercepts throughout the tournament) and dotted down. Kimber Rozier slotted the conversion for the 12-10 lead.

Momentum is everything in this game, and England took it back right before the half. There was some defensive confusion in the line, and Kat Merchant read it perfectly for a breakaway try – but in the corner, as Lauren Doyle made sure she didn’t center it, 15-12.

The second half unraveled a bit for the Americans. They got risky when they shouldn’t have – like blindly lobbing the ball back in bounds, or repeatedly breaking away unsupported – and didn’t realize advantages when they were there – like an unguarded, weakside teammate. Their fundamentals let them down a bit, too – dropped passes, misread lines, etc.

But even as England tacked on another 14 points (over 10 minutes), the USA still battled. Folayan did well to nearly reign in Watmore as she ran in the second of her three tries, and then made an excellent run up the sideline immediately after the score.

What that 29-12 scoreline doesn’t show is that much of the second half was played in England’s end, and it was much more competitive than the point differential suggests.

The only other storyline that could have topped the USA’s vast improvement was if the Eagles had upset England. Granted, the latter would have been sensational, but the former isn’t bad at all.

[Photo: Lauren Doyle attempts to escape England’s Emily Scarratt’s embrace during the final. Paul Rudman photo]

England 29
Tries: Watmore 3, Staniford, Merchant
Cons: Richardson 2

USA 12
Tries: Griffin, Marchino
Cons: Rozier

Match Video

Watch coach and player reactions at usarugby.org

Get full scores & rosters from the entire tournament here.

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