England's hopes of becoming men's and women's IRB World Cup Sevens champions were dashed within minutes yesterday as the previously flawless women crashed out in the quarter-finals on Pitch Two, followed swiftly by their male counterparts on Pitch One. There is no doubt England's top-seeded women wanted success badly but opponents Australia, runners-up in Pool A, were just too strong.
England, top of Pool B, opened the scoring with a try from Claire Allan. Unconverted, it left the way open for Australia's Tobie McGann to respond with her own try, putting the first numbers in England's points-against column this tournament and levelling scoring at 5-5. England captain, Sue Day, scored after the claxon following intense pressure from her side. The conversion was unsuccessful and England went into the break leading by a try.
A deafening half-time rendition of "Land Down Under" may have done more for Australia than a brief blast of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" did for England as Australia's Nicole Beck and Rebecca Tavo went over the line in the early stages. Tavo's effort was converted and England, without the injured Jo Yapp, failed to respond in the dying minutes, going down 17-10. Coach Simon Amor, who won the men's Dubai Sevens titles in 2004 and 2005, was denied the chance to return as a winning trainer and disappointment was written all over the faces of his tearful players.
"We are well and truly gutted," said an emotional Day. "We just didn't have enough possession." England had another crack at the whip though, sealing a place in the Plate final against Canada with a 12-7 victory over Spain. They proved too strong for the Canadian women too and won 12-0. England's Cup loss paved the way for semi-final match-ups between Australia and South Africa, who beat Spain 15-7 in the quarter-finals, and New Zealand and the USA who sealed places in the other game after the Kiwis crushed Canada 33-12 and the USA beat France 19-0.
In the first of these on Pitch One, New Zealand beat the USA 12-14. Australia, meanwhile, looked supremely confident in the first half of their match against South Africa; Rebecca Tarvo scored first despite team-mate Alex Hargreaves being sent to the sin bin for a spear tackle. South Africa's Saloma Booysen equalled the account with a try that meant Australia led at half-time by just two points. South Africa looked more dominant on the return with a try from Phumeza Gadu. But the Aussies showed strength in depth with tries from replacements Bo De la Cruz and Tricia Brown to seal the win, setting up a final with New Zealand.