The Black Ferns Sevens continue to write new chapters in the history of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series after beating Canada 33-7 in the final to become the first to successfully defend the HSBC Sydney Sevens title.
The title is their fourth in a row on the 2020 series after also lifting the silverware in Dubai, Cape Town and on home soil in Hamilton last weekend, taking their total to an incredible 26 titles in 42 series events.
New Zealand have now won 19 matches in a row since losing to France in the pool stages of the Glendale season opener last October, their 250th match in series history also seeing them extend their perfect record against Canada in Cup finals to eight matches.
Canada have only tasted victory once now in 21 meetings with the Black Ferns Sevens – four years ago in Sao Paulo – but they seemed set to open the scoring at Bankwest Stadium when Bianca Farella raced clear, only for Michaela Blyde to chase her down and earn a penalty.
HSBC Player of the Final Tyla Nathan-Wong, who in the semi-final had become only the second player to score 1,000 series points, instead went under under the posts to give herself an easy conversion for a 7-0 lead.
The lead lasted barely a minute, though, with Charity Williams cutting between Sarah Hirini and Stacey Fluhler to race through and tie the scores. It appeared that would be the last score of the first half but in added time Gayle Broughton's change of direction caught Canada out, giving her an easy run-in.
Canada simply couldn't find a way through the black wall in the second half of a match played in wet conditions, Niall Williams increasing the lead before Kelly Brazier's trademark step created the space for Theresa Fitzpatrick to make certain of victory.
It was left to Alena Saili to put the gloss on the victory – their third over Canada in Cup finals this season after Dubai and Hamilton – that increases the Black Ferns Sevens' advantage at the top of the standings to 16 points over Australia and Canada with three rounds to play.
Hirini said: “We’ve been working really hard to go back-to-back and to do it twice this season is just massive. I’m so happy right now. I can’t believe we made our debut last weekend [at home] and then winning this tournament – I’m speechless.
“Canada got off to a good start and are a quality team – it’s pretty tough to try and tackle those girls. I’m just so proud of our efforts, obviously every person who comes into our team thrives like Alena Saili at the end there who scored that thriller of a try.”
New Zealand now have 96 points as the only team to medal in all five rounds, with Australia and Canada on 80 points. France sit a further 10 points behind in fourth having leapfrogged USA after they could only finish eighth in Sydney.
Next stop for the teams is a first-ever series event in Hong Kong, playing alongside the traditional men's event, on 3-5 April.
AUSTRALIA WIN BRONZE
The bronze final was delayed by nearly 30 minutes due to lightning in the area around Bankwest Stadium, but Australia seemed determined to finish with a win for the home crowd and raise more money for the Red Cross Appeal. Charlotte Caslick released Ellia Green for a try inside 30 seconds with Demi Hayes following her over the try-line shortly after for a 12-0 lead. France got back into the game when Lina Guerin took the final pass from Séraphine Okemba and Australia could do nothing to stop Joanna Grisez from adding a second late on. Jade Ulutule couldn't add the conversion to tie the scores and France's restart didn't go 10, allowing Australia to tap and boot the ball into touch to win the bronze medal and take their total raised to $22,500 over the weekend.
Earlier in the first semi-final, Canada had silenced the crowd with a dominant display to end Australia's hopes of a second title on home soil and first for just over two years with a 34-0 victory. Canada have now won their last four semi-finals with Australia – three of them this series – and each time a huge defensive effort has kept the Olympic champions pinned in their own half for long periods. Kaili Lukan and Ghislaine Landry sent Canada into half-time with a 12-0 lead and then two yellow cards didn't help Australia's cause with each one punished with tries, by Farella and Keyara Wardley. Canada went on to post a record win, Wardley and Karen Paquin adding late tries to reach their third final of the series.
Flulher stole the show in the other semi-final, scoring all four of New Zealand's tries in a 24-7 victory over France to make it 18 victories in a row since Les Bleues beat them in the Dubai pool stages in December. Fluhler's opening try had a moment of history attached to it as Nathan-Wong's conversion made her the first Black Ferns Sevens player – and second behind Landry – to score 1,000 series points. Guerin them stepped her way through the defence to tie the scores at 7-7, but Fluhler had New Zealand ahead before half-time before adding two more after the break to set up a repeat of the finals in Dubai and Hamilton.
The eight teams that missed out on the Cup semi-finals were ranked according to their placing to play-off for fifth to 12th positions.
Fiji capped an impressive tournament with a 17-5 victory over England that saw them finish fifth for the first time since the final round of the 2016-17 series in Clermont-Ferrand. Tries from Lavenia Tinai, Luisa Tisolo and captain Tokasa Seniyasi had given them a 17-0 lead before Beth Wilcock scored a consolation try for England at the end.
A hat-trick by Daria Noritsina saw Russia edge USA 19-15 to finish seventh, the second of her tries coming after the Women's Sevens Eagles dropped the ball on their own line and she reacted quickest to dot down. USA had led 10-7 before that error, but did set up a tense final few seconds after Kristi Kirshe scored and USA declined the conversion attempt to restart and go for the win, ultimately to no avail after Russia managed to turn it over.
In the ninth place play-off, invitational side Japan couldn't have asked for a better start with captain Honoka Tsutsumi scoring twice in quick succession, stepping her way through for the first and then running around the last defender on the opposite flank. Further tries from Haruka Hirotsu, Raichel Bativakalolo and Fumiko Otake sealed the 33-17 win to give Japan their best result of the 2020 series.
Ireland and Brazil met for the third tournament running in the 11th place play-off and, just as in Cape Town and Hamilton, it was the Irish who emerged victorious, this time 20-7 with Eve Higgins scoring two of their four tries.
POOL STAGE CONCLUSION
The final round of pool matches had kicked off day two with New Zealand, Canada and Australia finishing top of their respective pools to reach the Cup semi-finals, where they were joined by the best runners-up across the three pools in France, who edged out England and Fiji with their better point differential.
Fiji were fast out of the blocks against Brazil in the opening game of the day with Tisolo, Seniyasi and Ana Maria Naimasi dotting down within four minutes. Brazil had plenty of the ball in the second half, but tries another from Naimasi helped Fiji wrap up the 31-0 victory which kept them in the mix for a semi-final place.
USA knew it was win or bust in terms of their semi-final hopes against Canada, but it was the Hamilton runners-up who struck first through Farella and then doubled their advantage with the clock in red when captain Landry burst through. Williams made it 21-0 early in the second half against the side they beat in the 2017 Sydney final, with USA only able to muster a late consolation through Alev Kelter as they suffered their 100th defeat in series history.
England needed to avoid defeat to confirm their place in the semi-finals for the first time this season, but conceded early against a New Zealand team without the injured Ruby Tui when Kelly Brazier stepped her way over. England hit the front through Deborah Fleming and Helena Rowland with a wayward pass denying Brazier a second with the final play of the half. The Black Ferns Sevens, though, stormed back with Williams, Fitzpatrick and Fluhler tries securing a 26-12 victory.
A repeat of the Hamilton bronze final would determine the two remaining semi-finalists and Australia led 14-0 at half-time thanks to Emma Tonegato and Green run-ins to put France in danger of missing out on the best runner-up spot. However, two quick-fire tries through Chloé Pelle and Okemba cut the deficit to four points, the former having stopped Cassie Staples from scoring at one end before doing so herself at the other. Australia's defence, though, held firm to avenge their loss in Hamilton sevens days ago.
A first win of the tournament was up for grabs when Russia and Japan met in Pool A and it looked like the Sakura Sevens were set to end a 15-match losing run in pool matches on the series when Bativakalolo and Chiharu Nakamura gave them a 12-7 lead. However, with the clock in red Baizat Khamidova broke through to snatch victory for Russia.
Spain once again proved too strong for Ireland in the other Pool C match, although they had to come from behind after Murphy Crowe's early try. Eva Aguirre and captain Marina Bravo crossed in the first half before María García stepped her way to a double for a 24-5 victory.