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Avenging its loss in the bronze medal match at the Rugby World Cup in San Francisco, the USA used immense defensive pressure and a hat trick by Ilona Maher to beat top-seeded Australia, 26-5, in the cup quarterfinals at the HSBC USA 7s in Glendale, Colo. The Eagles barely made it to the cup rounds and proved they belong with a physical outburst against Australia. The USA will face France in the cup semifinals at 2:42 pm MT.
“Yesterday, we were on defense a lot and I said at the end of the day the one thing we needed to work on was possession,” captain Lauren Doyle said. “We finally got possession today and we really made use of it.”
“I’m most proud that maybe day one didn’t go exactly as planned. We really came out today saying that wasn’t good enough and we are going to make it better. We really showed it in that quarterfinal game.”
Speaking of the tournament try leader, Ilona Maher, Doyle stated, “Lo is obviously a new add at the end of last season and I think that she is working out fabulously for us. I’m just so happy she’s on my team.”
With the crowd chanting “USA! USA!” throughout the match, the fans at Infinity Park fueled the match where many expected a win for Australia. The Aussies had USA’s number in the past two cup meetings in Dubai and San Francisco. The tables turned on Sunday as the Eagles came out with the defensive pressure they exhibited in phases yesterday.
Defense caused the USA’s first possession when its ruck defense was turned into a penalty. Alev Kelter broke the line and Nicole Heavirland picked up the loose ball and pitched to Maher. The physical forward raced around the corner for the match’s first try.
Australia attempted to counter by attacking the weak side but the USA defense turned it over. After breaking a tackle, it was Maher again off to the races with a 40-meter try.
Up 12-0, the Aussies continued to try to find holes in the defense but came up empty. The USA pressure pushed its opponent back into their own 22 until the whistle sounded.
The USA kicked off the second half and reserve Steph Rovetti poached the ball soon after the restart. A nifty switch between Abby Gustaitis and Cheta Emba confused the Aussies and sent Emba into the tryzone for the 19-0 lead.
Emma Sykes struck back almost immediately to cut the lead to 14 points and the Aussies began to mount its potential comeback. Australia kept possession down the stretch with the USA giving them extra chances with penalties. The Aussies got into striking distance inside the 22 but were stopped with a knock at the 10.
The USA kicked for space and Rovetti put pressure on the sweeper. The ball was turned over and Maher capped off her hat trick and the seventh try of the tournament to win the match, 26-5.
Doyle summed up the match by saying, “I really believe the game of sevens is played by possession. The more possession they have the less they can score. That’s is going to be the big focus and obviously, our defense has to be on point and we have shown that throughout the duration of the tournament.”
The USA has reached the cup semifinals at Dubai, Langford, and San Francisco and will look for its first cup final since Dubai against France at 2:42 pm MT.