Australia have started their HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series 2018 campaign with an emphatic 34-0 victory over USA in the final of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens.
The 2016-17 series runners-up and Olympic gold medallists produced a dominant display of flowing rugby to dazzle the packed out stands at the series opener and achieve their first tournament win since Atlanta in 2016 and their first Dubai win since 2015.
USA looked in fine fettle after their shock Cup quarter-final win over series champions New Zealand but it was a one-sided affair in the final as Australia ran in six tries to ensure they will head into their home event in Sydney top of the standings.
Emma Tonegato, who was later named HSBC Player of the Final, opened the scoring in the final following a beautiful piece of interlinking play with Charlotte Caslick and Emilee Cherry. Co-captain Sharni Williams followed up with a clever blindside break down the left to score Australia's second, which was soon added to by Player of the Tournament Evania Pelite.
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In the second half, Cherry ran in an easy try after the ball spilled out on the 22-metre line, and then set up Dominque du Toit for their fifth try. Du Toit rounded off the game with an easy clean break through the middle of the USA defence following a lineout.
"We're absolutely ecstatic with that win. It's been a long time coming since that last gold medal,” Williams said. "The girls have worked extremely hard in the pre-season and it's great to get the rewards for that."
Australia will head into the next round of the series in Sydney on 26-28 January, buoyed by their result in Dubai but also one step closer to a strong seeding at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco. The seedings will be based on the 2016-17 series points combined with the first two rounds of the 2018 series.
Russia finished third following a 10-5 defeat of Canada in the bronze medal match, while two tries from Amee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe helped Ireland overcome South Africa 24-7 to win the Challenge Trophy.
USA 21-12 Russia
The formidable Alev Kelter used all her nouse to slice through the Russia defence and score two tries in the first five minutes in the first Cup semi-final. With early pressure mounting, it was Elena Zdrokova who managed to claw a try back, which was followed up quickly by Dream Team member Baizat Khamidova, who sped down the left wing to run a try in from 35 metres. In the 13th minute, and the score at 14-12 to USA, captain Nicole Heavirland put the result beyond doubt to secure her side's fourth Cup final in series history.
Australia 25-7 Canada
Australia looked lethal from the start against Canada in their semi-final, as Tonegato blitzed down the left wing to leave the defence in her wake and open the scoring. Caslick followed up two minutes later and then Pelite scored a great solo try after a huge hand off gave her the momentum to burst through the Canadian defence. Canada captain Ghislaine Landry got one try back but the momentum was firmly with Australia as Pelite scored her second and Cherry finished off a well-rounded performance to get her side into the final.
The first quarter-final of the day brought about one of the biggest upsets from the past two series as New Zealand were beaten by USA 14-12. The Black Ferns Sevens hadn't lost a match since Sydney back in January - ironically against USA - and hadn't failed to reach a Cup semi-final since Dubai in 2015. It was a cheeky "show and go" try from Kelsi Stockert and conversion from Kelter that made the difference in the dying seconds.
A brace of tries from Khamidova, followed up by two from captain Alena Mikhaltsova, gave Russia a comfortable 20-0 win over Spain. In the third quarter-final it was a well-executed 29-12 victory over England for Australia who had three tries within seven minutes thanks to Tonegato, Emma Sykes and Pelite. The final two scores from Du Toit and Mahalia Murphy were enough to close out the game, despite scores from England's Amy Wilson-Hardy and Heather Fisher.
The fourth quarter-final was the most tense as Canada and France went to extra-time at 19-19. Canada had a chance to snatch victory in normal time, but Landry was unable to slot the conversion following Julia Greenshields' late try. In extra-time, and following a huge number of phases, it was eventually Breanne Nicholas who secured the Cup semi-final spot for Canada.