Australia thrashed surprise finalists United States 34-0 in the showpiece match on Pitch 1
Dubai Rugby Sevens: Australia fire a warning with emphatic win over United States in final
Australia laid down a marker about their intentions of regaining their Women’s Sevens Series title, after winning the opening tournament in Dubai on Friday.
They thrashed surprise finalists United States 34-0 in the showpiece match on Pitch 1 at The Sevens.
Dominique du Toit scored two tries, while Sharni Williams, Emma Tonegato, Emilee Cherry and Evania Pelite, who was named player of the tournament, touched down one apiece in the rout.
Australia enjoyed a perfect year in 2016, when they added the first Olympic sevens gold for women to their first World Series title.
However, their perennial rivals New Zealand reasserted ascendancy last season by reclaiming the series title.
Tim Walsh, the Australia coach, said that was the motivation behind his side’s excellence in the UAE.
“After Rio [Olympics], it was pretty tough,” Walsh said. “We reassessed and tried to reform what we are about. We had a reasonable year, but we underperformed.
“We had to re-motivate ourselves, and it is easy to motivate yourselves when you are second. Now the challenge is to stay up there again.
“It is a long season, and this is only Round 1. We need to make sure we are consistent.”
The biggest cheer of the night on a typically raucous Friday of the Sevens actually emanated from Australia’s players, when Pelite went up to collect her trophy as the tournament’s outstanding player.
The understated 22-year-old is often overshadowed by some of her more vaunted colleagues, but Walsh said she is a highly valued member of the squad.
“Vani is very much under radar, but she has played in a lot of tournament wins, she is an Olympic gold medallist, and she was a star player in that Olympic final,” Walsh said.
“She is a world-class player and vitally important to this team. There is not really a skill that she can’t do, and that is what sevens is all about.
“She is very nonchalant. You see her score these amazing tries, or do things in games that most people would be jumping up and down, high-fiving each other for, and she just goes on to the next job.”
Pelite echoed Walsh’s sentiments about New Zealand’s dominance last season, suggesting it had fuelled a tough off-season for the Australian players.
“We have worked really hard this pre-season, so to be able to go out there and show the rest of the world that, coming off the back of last season, is really amazing for us,” Pelite said.
“It put the first in our bellies again coming off last season. We went away, we worked hard over the past five months and we are definitely moving forwards to where we want to go.”
The fact New Zealand were not the opposition in the final was a shock to everyone. The Black Ferns had dominated the US in the final pool match of Day 1.
However, in the first match of the second day, out on Pitch 2, the Americans rebounded with a tense 14-12 win.
“It was definitely shocking hearing USA had tipped over New Zealand in that quarter final,” Pelite said.
“We were expecting New Zealand to go all the way as well, and hopefully meet them in the final. But we can’t underestimate any teams on the world circuit.
“Dubai is the first tournament, so you can’t know what teams have gone away and done in their off season as well.”
Naya Tapper, the powerful wing who caught the eye for the US over the course of the tournament, said there were few clues about what was to come ahead of the game against New Zealand.
“It is early morning, we didn’t get that much sleep, so I was already grumpy,” Tapper said.
“Our warm up wasn’t too hot, so I just knew we had to come out and give it all we had on the field, and we had nothing to lose.”
The fact Russia finished third, after beating Canada in the bronze medal match, might also appear another surprise result. Canada were third on the series last season, 32 points ahead of the Russians.
However, Russia like Pitch 1 in Dubai, having stunned the field to win the tournament two years ago, thrashing New Zealand in the process.