Following two tournaments of the women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023, Australia are once again sitting top of the standings.
Tim Walsh’s side have enjoyed a stellar 12 months, winning the 2022 women’s Series, Commonwealth Games 2022 and RWC Sevens 2022 titles to complete an historic clean sweep.
Meanwhile, Japan claimed their place as a core team on the 2023 Series by winning the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2022 in Chile.
As New Year draws close, we take a look at the highlights from another stunning year of women’s rugby sevens.
Australia win Series
Australia went into 2022 with a 100 per cent record on the Series, having won the first two tournaments of the season in Dubai.
However, their quest for the title in Malaga in January was halted at the semi-final stage when they were defeated 29-26 by Russia.
Walsh’s side recovered to beat France 33-7 in the bronze final, before USA claimed their first gold medal since Glendale in 2019 as Jaz Gray scored two of her side’s five tries in a 35-10 victory in the showpiece match.
Six days later in Seville, a Jade Ulutule conversion proved decisive as France beat Australia 12-10 in Seville to top Pool C.
Les Bleues were beaten by England in the quarter-finals, however, and Australia took full advantage.
Tries from Tia Hinds, Faith Nathan and Maddison Levi helped them to a narrow 21-19 defeat of USA in the semi-finals, before Ireland were beaten 17-12 in the final.
Results in Spain put Australia within touching distance of the 2022 Series title, but their chances of wrapping it up in Langford were complicated by the return of New Zealand.
The Black Ferns Sevens had not competed in the Series since the outbreak of the pandemic, but they displayed few signs of rustiness as they qualified for the quarter-finals unbeaten.
Canada and France were then dispatched in the knockout stages to set up a final against their old rivals, Australia.
Michaela Blyde scored what appeared to be the match-winning try in the showpiece match but with the clock in the red, Lily Dick touched down for a converted score that secured Australia a 21-17 victory – and the Series title.
The 2022 women’s Series came to a close in Toulouse between 20-22 May and again it was Australia and New Zealand who contested the final.
New Zealand trailed at half-time but tries from Alena Saili and Kelly Brazier after the break gave the Black Ferns Sevens a 21-14 win, and their first tournament title since February 2020.
Commonwealth Games gold for Australia
At the end of July, attention turned to Coventry Stadium as Australia continued their quest for a triple crown at the Commonwealth Games 2022.
Their hopes of leaving England with another gold medal suffered a setback in their final match of the pool stage when they lost 19-12 to Fiji.
Defeat meant the 2022 Series champions would have to play the Black Ferns Sevens in the medal semi-finals and they trailed 12-5 at half-time of that match.
Maddison Levi had scored Australia’s sole first-half try and she crossed the whitewash twice more after the break to complete her hat-trick and confirm a 17-12 win for her side.
Fiji beat Canada 24-7 in the other semi-final but a slow start to the final cost them their shot at the gold medal.
Tries from Faith Nathan (two), Madison Ashby and Levi put Australia 22-0 up within eight minutes and subsequent replies from Ana Maria Naimasi and Sesenieli Donu could not prevent a 22-12 defeat.
Victory gave Australia a first sevens Commonwealth Games gold medal and meant Walsh’s team needed to win RWC Sevens 2022 to complete an unprecedented clean sweep of titles in the calendar year.
Japan victorious in Chile
In August, 12 teams arrived in Santiago, Chile to contest the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2022.
The prize for the victorious side was core team status on the 2023 Series. Kenya, Poland and Japan emerged from the pool stage unbeaten while China, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Belgium and Colombia completed the quarter-final line-up.
China beat Kazakhstan to set up a semi-final against Poland, which the Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Championship 2022 winners won 22-15.
Japan won the other semi-final by the same scoreline, Wakaba Hara’s third try of the match inflicting a first defeat of the tournament on Kenya.
The Sakura Sevens then ran in three unanswered tries in the final at Estadio Santa Laura Universidad, through Chiharu Nakamura, Yume Hirano and Michiyo Suda, to earn a 17-0 win and their place on the 2023 Series.
Japan opened their 2023 campaign with a 10th-place finish at the Emirates Dubai 7s and followed that by coming 11th at the HSBC Cape Town Sevens.
Australia make history
RWC Sevens 2022 was played in a straight-knockout format, with each of the round of 16 matches going with seeding on the opening day.
Australia opened their campaign with a 48-0 win against Madagascar, in which Faith Nathan became the first player to score five tries in one RWC Sevens match, and then beat England 35-5 in the quarter-finals.
New Zealand also made sure of their passage to the semi-finals with a 28-0 quarter-final defeat of Ireland, while France edged Fiji 19-14 and Ilona Maher’s second-half try secured a 10-7 win for USA against Canada.
In the first semi-final, Michaela Blyde and Shiray Kaka each crossed the whitewash twice as the Black Ferns Sevens ran in six tries to beat France 38-7.
Australia then set up a showpiece match against their old rivals, tries from Charlotte Caslick (two) and Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea confirming a 17-7 win against USA.
Two Maddison Levi tries gave Australia a slender 12-10 lead at half-time of the final and when she completed her hat-trick in the 10th minute – shortly after Nathan had also scored – it stretched that advantage to 24-10.
The Black Ferns Sevens responded with tries from Kaka and Saili before the final whistle but only the first was successfully converted, meaning Australia held on to confirm their place in history.
Australia’s place at the top of women’s sevens showed no sign of weakening as they opened the 2023 Series with victory in Dubai, and then followed that up with a silver medal in Cape Town.
They are currently joint-top of the Series standings with New Zealand, who mirrored those results to join them on 38 points after two tournaments.