x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The history makers

Australia, a benchmark of global rugby standards, create more history when their women's team became inaugural winners of the Sevens World Cup.

Mandisa Williams of South Africa, in green, and Sel Tranter of Australia, wrestle for the ball during their semi-final match in the World Cup Sevens.
Mandisa Williams of South Africa, in green, and Sel Tranter of Australia, wrestle for the ball during their semi-final match in the World Cup Sevens.

DUBAI // Australia, for generations a benchmark of global rugby standards, created more history last night when their women's team became inaugural winners of the Sevens World Cup. It was perhaps to be expected that the Australians would have to overcome their neighbours and most fierce rivals, New Zealand, to take the trophy in a final which proved an excellent appetiser for the main event - the men's final between Argentina and Wales.

Twenty minutes of ferocious rugby could not separate the two teams, who were level at 10-10, and it needed a sudden-death decider by Shelly Matcham to determine the first destination of the new trophy. Few in a crowd of 32,000 left their seats for a comfort break before the men's final and the women responded to the chance of playing in front of the biggest gallery of their careers. Their entertaining show gave their respective countryfolk something to cheer about after the early departure of both men's teams.

The temporary dismissal of Australia's Rebecca Tavo just before half time proved a pivotal moment in the final. Her team were in command at the time, having opened up a 10-0 lead through tries by Nicole Beck and Debby Hodkinson - her seventh of the tournament - but a two-minute spell of numerical advantage brought rich rewards for the Kiwis. Justine Lavea reduced the deficit almost immediately and then, in the first attack of the second half, Carla Hohepa brought the scores level by darting over in the corner.

The momentum was clearly with New Zealand and it needed a magnificent try-saving tackle by Tricia Brown on Selica Winiata, a fresh-legged substitute, to prevent them from taking the lead. Australia had qualified for the final by beating South Africa 19-10 in the semi-finals, while New Zealand were pushed all the way in their semi-final by the United States, who were left to rue a missed conversion which determined their 14-12 demise.

wjohnson@thenational.ae