Once one of the prominent forces in the international women’s game as the inaugural world champions back in 1991, the USA had experienced a fallow period for the best part of 20 years by the time Rugby World Cup 2017 came around.
However, with the likes of the strong-running Naya Tapper on the wing and the inspirational Alev Kelter in their ranks, the Women’s Eagles headed to Ireland with renewed hope.
Comfortable wins against Italy and Spain gave justification to the confidence in camp, before the USA ended the pool stages with a 47-26 loss to pool-topping England.
Even in defeat though, they showed how dangerous they can be, ‘winning’ the second half with a stirring fightback after England had stormed into a 33-7 half-time lead.
Eagles get off to flyer
While well beaten, the Women’s Eagles had done enough to qualify for their first semi-final since 1998 as the best runner-up across the three pools.
Taking the momentum from their second-half display against the Red Roses into the semi-final against New Zealand in Belfast, Pete Steinberg’s surprise package stunned their more vaunted opponents by scoring the first try through Kris Thomas to lead 7-3 after 17 minutes.
But, as live streaming viewers will see this Friday, at 19:00 BST via the official Rugby World Cup Facebook page and World Rugby YouTube channel, the Black Ferns were not about to be on the wrong side of an upset and went to win 45-12 – an almost identical scoreline to when they beat the USA in the final of RWC 1998.
Award-winning performance from Woodman
Portia Woodman was a class above, her hat-trick secured victory just past the hour mark. The ‘Rolls-Royce’ of wings still had time to add a fourth – and 13th of the tournament – as the Black Ferns showed their ruthless streak with a late flurry of points.
“Full credit to our supporters and to the USA who battled all the way through to 80 minutes and they really gave it to us. We're very happy, the girls had to tough it out. We've been training hard throughout the week and I couldn't be any happier. We knew we had to step it up another notch and we did,” said captain Fiao'o Fa’amausili.
Woodman would go on to be named World Rugby Women’s 15s Player of the Year 2017 – the first player to win both the sevens and 15s awards.
After beating England in a thrilling final, the Black Ferns became the first female team to scoop the World Rugby Team of the Year accolade, beating the All Blacks to the award.
Meanwhile, the USA narrowly lost out to France for the bronze medal.
Over the weekend, two more matches will be available to watch:
- Saturday, 2 May – Argentina v Ireland – RWC 1999 – 19:00 BST
- Sunday, 3 May – England v New Zealand – RWC 2019 – 16:00 BST
- Monday, 4 May – France v Canada – RWC 2014 – 19:00 BST