At first consideration, Brazil winning the plate at the Women’s International 7s Invitational seems to be a sizeable upset. Then again, Brazil is a 7s World Cup team and has a full international 7s circuit planned out, so the fact that they beat the Maple Leafs 12-5 then Stars & Stripes 21-19 in the plate final shouldn’t surprise.
Brazil went 0-3 in pool play and took on the Maple Leafs this morning. The Stars & Stripes, as they warmed up for their plate semifinal, watched the battle unfold.
Stars & Stripes put in a solid performance against Japan, but the 14-5 was a difficult one. Kimber Rozier and Ryan Carlyle accounted for the USA’s tries, while Rozier handled the conversions. On defense, Jane Paar put in some great cover tackles as the Japanese found success switching fields quickly. And when Japan tried to run through the middle, Jill Potter made sure they experienced negative yards.
But the semifinal win also highlighted the high penalty count that would haunt them in the final against Brazil.
“We knew it was going to be a different team because we saw them beat the Maple Leafs,” Paar said. “What was more of a surprise were the penalties. That’s what got us. … The ref’s part of the game. For this one, we just didn’t adapt as well as we should have.”
The USA received two yellow cards (Rozier and Carlyle), and it turned out to be the difference. Brazil got on the board first, taking the corner after recycling the ball deep in their zone and waiting patiently for the defense to overcommit in the middle. The USA tied it up after some gritty work from Paar around the breakdown eventually saw the ball skip out to Bui Baravilala and Amy Naber, who made some ground, before hitting Carlyle in support to finish off the try.
Carlyle was later yellow carded for a repeated infringement and Brazil took advantage of the man advantage. The half ended in thrilling fashion, as Brazil worked the ball from side to side trying to find the overload, but the USA kicked it into second gear and played a great scramble defense. Brazil failed to realize some overlap opportunities, but were finally rewarded with a dive-over try in the corner.
Up 14-7 at the half, it was crucial that the Stars & Stripes erode the deficit quickly. And they came through. From the kickoff, Rozier and Carlyle go their side up to midfield but slow support saw Brazil poach. Fortunately, the USA stole possession soon afterward and the ball shipped out to Erica Cavanaugh, who took the corner and legged out a 40 meter try. Rozier nailed the sideline conversion to tie it up 14-all.
After a nine-and-a-half-minute first half, some fatigue – both mental and physical – began to set in. The USA was slow to form a lineout deep in its own zone and drew a penalty. Brazil spun the ball wide and found space in the corner, 21-14 with the conversion.
With time winding down, the Stars & Stripes were back to seven players and desperately marched down the field. The USA received a penalty on Brazil’s five meter, but instead of trying to engineer a play that would center the try, the team decided to work the ball down the line. They were rewarded with a corner try from Amy Naber, but then the pressure transferred to Rozier for the conversion.
Rozier has an incredibly capable boot and has slot sideline conversions better than the average kicker. But the wind picked up and even though it had the distance, the kick didn’t have the angle and Brazil erupted as the buzzer sounded, 21-19 the final score.
“I could have made a better decision on that last penalty kick,” Paar said. “I could’ve tried to center it under the post. There were a couple of things that we could have fixed.”
Brazil wasn’t as surprised that they were able to rebound on day two. It came down to believing in their systems and executing with more confidence.
For the USA players, the plate final was a valuable lesson in the nature of sevens, and how any team can lose on day one and win it all on day two.
Many of the players competed in their first international 7s tournament, including Paar. “I’m loving the high pace and high intensity,” the Navy cadet said. “In the first game against Netherlands, I was caught a little bit off guard; blinked my eyes and it was over. Every game after that it’s been about team building. The learning curve is just huge.”
In the 7th place match, the Maple Leafs defeated Japan 27-14. The Cup semifinals will occur in Sam Boyd Stadium this afternoon, and will see the USA face Netherlands and Canada take on France.