The USA Women 7s team’s game against Fiji was supposed to be the easiest of the Eagles’ pool games during the Dubai 7s, but it was anything but that. Running at a deficit for the majority of the match, the USA needed every second on the clock to secure the 24-19 win. After two rounds, the Eagles are in second place with a +5 point differential and face New Zealand next; Ireland lost 29-0 to the Kiwis.
The USA got behind early again, as Fiji, like Ireland, scored a quick try after kickoff. This one was the result of a missed tackle out wide, but came after Fiji worked the width, kept the ball alive (with some inconsistent passing) and took advantage of the space. Big, tall and powerful, Josivini Gusuivalu is emblematic of the type of athlete Fiji showcases, only now the team is a little more organized and fitter. Asinate Ufia Savu hit the conversion for the 7-0 lead.
On the next possession, the USA drew a high-tackle penalty and worked it to the sideline, where Deven Owsiany did well to commit the defense. The prop hit Vix Folayan out of contact and off she went down the side. Folayan took the corner around her pursuers in the try zone but fumbled the grounding. A momentary lapse in concentration that fortunately didn’t decide the outcome of the game.
Minutes later, Kelly Griffin recovered a loose ball at midfield and got it off to Jill Potter, who took off for the try line. As the defense closed in, the prop angled toward the corner and just made it in, while Folayan exhaled a sigh of relief, 7-5 Fiji.
As the game progressed, it became clear that the USA could not manipulate Fiji at the breakdown the way they had against Ireland. Fiji was flooding the rucks and then aggressively attacking the outlet pass, and was rewarded with a batted ball a few times. That interference made it difficult to for the USA to swing the ball quickly, but the Eagles were still eager to pick around the contact point. That tactic, too, yielded turnovers when support was slow or simply overpowered.
The USA didn’t have any time to relish in their score, as the next kickoff lacked height and allowed Fiji to attack with space. One slipped try out wide and confusion between Bex Siebach and Folayan saw Savu into the try zone. Rusila Nagasau converted for the 14-5 lead.
The next crowd pleaser occurred shortly afterward as Timaima Ravisa exposed some looseness in the USA defense. She looked as if she would score easily but then Folayan burst into the picture for one of many try-saving cover tackles. Breaks by Megan Bonny and Kelly Griffin put the USA inside Fiji’s 10 meter. An offsides penalty let the USA reset, and Potter bulled over for her second try. Villines hit the conversion to pull within two, 14-12, and end the half.
Fiji continued to stress out the USA defense, moving the ball away from contact and waiting for those gaps to open up, and they did. However, Fiji could not get around Folayan, who tracked down Gusuivalu in open field. The try-scorer fell awkwardly, grabbing her knee once she hit the ground, and knocked the ball on. The USA earned a penalty but Owsiany was confused and hesitant as she tapped through, as a Fijian staffer rushed onto the field to attend to Gusuivalu. No whistle was blown and support was too slow to support Owsiany in the tackle. The ball turned over and Savu scored, 19-12.
There were still four minutes remaining, and how the teams responded after injury time was going to decide the victor. Fiji nearly dotted down a ball kicked through the try zone but thankfully Dana Meschisi won that battle. Rebekah Siebach took matters into her own hands and from a penalty stepped around her defender down the sideline. She centered her try, but Griffin missed the easy conversion, 19-17.
This time it was Folayan who cleaned up a teammate’s mistake, and with a minute left on the clock, she first reined in another Fiji breakaway. It appeared that the sweeper tripped the Fijian player but play wasn’t halted. Instead, Folayan scooped up the ball, hopped out of a couple of tackles and scored the game-winner. Griffin hit the conversion to end on a good note, 24-19.
Definitely not the nailbiter the USA was expecting, and their biggest test awaits against New Zealand. Hopefully the Eagles will test their outside attack a bit more in the third pool game.