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The United States women advanced to the Cup Quarterfinals with a strong showing Friday in London. They opened up with a 40-7 thrashing of China, beat Fiji 24-19 and then drew with Australia, 12-12. The Aussies finished atop the pool with a better point differential than the Eagles.
The fallout of the pool results is the USA facing France in an incredibly important Cup Quarterfinal. The Eagles are tied for fifth place in the Series standings, and France is four points ahead in fourth. With the top four nations qualifying for the 2016 Olympics at Series end (there’s one more tournament after London), beating France Saturday would go a long way toward the USA’s Olympic goal.
The China game was a whitewash, with the Eagles running in six tries. Vix Folayan and Alev Kelter scored two a piece, and Lauren Doyle and Kristen Thomas dotted down, too.
Against Fiji, Kelter put the USA up early with a try. She scooped up an offload from Megan Bonny meant for Kelley Griffin that hit the deck and ran in untouched for a score. The Alaskan converted her own try, making it 7-0.
Fiji seemed destined to level the table a couple of minutes later, but a try-saving cover tackle and poach and Bonny ended the immediate threat. A knock on gave the ball back to Fiji inside the American 22, but the Eagles won the scrum and sent the ball wide to Folayan, who beat her counterpart and strode 80-plus meters for a try.
Folayan dotted down her second right on halftime to put the Americans up 19-0 at the break. Bui Baravilala was brought down just a few second short of pay dirt, and the referee was holding advantage for a Fijian penalty. Via the penalty play Folayan found a game and got over. Baravilala converted.
The Eagles flubbed up the kickoff at the onset of the second half, leading to a quick try for Fiji. After an Eagle mistake, the Fijians went back on the offensive, and a trio of offloads saw the American lead shrink to 19-12. Another penalty, this one on Folayan for holding onto the ball in the tackle, saw Fiji run in a third-straight try and convert it to tie the match at 19-19.
The Eagles responded with a high-energy try. Thomas made the initial break, drawing three defenders before going down. The ball was spun, and after another hit up Fiji was penalized for diving over. The Eagles quick-tapped and Griffin pirouetted through a tackle to score the game winner.
The Australian game was as much of a barnburner. The USA got on top once again, with Baravilala scoring after Folayan gashed the defense directly off the kickoff. Converted, the try put the USA up 7-0.
Australia’s Shannon Perry fended Bonny and bowled over Kelter in the corner to put Australia on the board. Perry got away with an extracurricular shove on Kelter in the try zone. The conversion attempt failed, leaving the USA up 7-5 with about a minute to play in the half.
A flurry of mishandles turned both sides sloppy, and a dribbling pass bounced into the hands of Doyle. She saw a hole in the broken Australian defense and scurried in for a try. She was bottled into the corner, though, and the difficult conversion was missed, putting the Eagles up 12-7 going into intermission.
Kelter’s kickoff to start the second half not going ten and the referee making a poor penalty call on the United States led to Australia leveling the table with a converted try. Katy Johnson ripped the ball from an Australian ball carrier, rolled to the ground via momentum, not a tackle, and got up running. The sir incorrectly deemed her to not release, either the ball or the initial ball carrier, and Australia scored on the penalty play.
With about three minutes left, Australia had an attacking penalty and the set play opened space on the wing, but a knock-on ended the threat. The USA had a shot after Griffin quick-tapped a penalty and streaked up the sideline deep into the Australian end. She was caught, and the ball was spun wide to Johnson, who returned the favor with a knock on. Knowing it had the point differential advantage, Australia kicked the ball to touch at full time to force the draw.