The U.S. women’s rugby sevens team came into the World Series finale expecting to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. What few could have predicted, in addition, was a first World Series leg title.
The U.S. handed World Series champion New Zealand just its third loss of the season, 26-10 in the final in Biarritz, France, on Sunday. The Americans finished the season ranked second in the world, bettering their previous best of fourth in the inaugural campaign in 2012-13.
“I’ve imagined this moment so many times, and for it to finally come together about five years later, it means the world,” Rio Olympian Lauren Doyle said.
The top four became the first nations to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Four years ago, the U.S. women needed a second-chance, continental qualifier to make it into the field for rugby sevens’ Olympic debut in Rio. They lost to eventual silver medalist New Zealand in the Olympic quarterfinals.
The U.S. also showed in-season progress this winter and spring, particularly against New Zealand. The Kiwis won the first four meetings, but the U.S. took two of the last three.
New coach Chris Brown, a former U.S. men’s assistant, replaced Olympic coach Richie Walker, who resigned in August. Only three of this season’s 12 primary players were on the Rio Olympic team.
“We had to sort our culture out and make sure they wanted to play for each other, and know what it was like to put the team before themselves,” Brown said, according to World Rugby. “We’ve got a good group here, and from there we had to work out how to actually defend and show our character through our defense. That’s what we’ve done all season. We’re still missing a few cogs on the attacking side, but we’re progressing.”
The U.S. men previously qualified for Tokyo by finishing second in their World Series.
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