USA Rugby

Getty Images

U.S. women’s rugby moving into role of Olympic favorites

Leave a comment

The U.S. women picked up where they left off in the World Rugby Sevens Series on Sunday, winning the first event of the 2019-20 series at home in Glendale, Colo.

While the score in the final (26-7 over Australia) looked convincing, the path to victory was bumpy. The U.S. dropped a group-stage game 24-14 to France, then capped a quarterfinal rally over Canada in spectacular fashion when Cheta Emba raced more than half the length of the field for a last-second try and a 29-26 win.

The semifinal with New Zealand went back and forth, with Lauren Doyle making a clutch defensive play and a late try to stake the U.S. to a 19-12 lead. New Zealand scored a last-second try to cut it to 19-17, but the U.S. defense forced New Zealand wide to try the game-tying conversion from an acute angle, and the kick went wide.

The final against Australia was tied until just before halftime, when Ilona Maher forced the ball over the line for a 12-7 U.S. lead. Nicole Heavirland accounted for all of the scoring in the second half with two tries and a conversion.

Last year, the U.S. took second place in the season-opening event in Glendale and took three third-place finishes before winning the season-ending tournament in Biarritz, France. The women finished second on the season, clinching a berth in the 2020 Olympics.

The U.S. also has a strong presence in men’s sevens. The men’s team matched the women by finishing second overall last season after holding the lead late in the series, ensuring their presence in Tokyo next summer. The men’s 2019-20 World Series starts later in the year.

Rugby union’s traditional 15-a-side game, like soccer and cricket, has a richer history in Europe and several Southern Hemisphere nations than it has in the United States. The U.S. men have only won three World Cup games in their history and are currently laboring through the Group of Death in this year’s Cup.

The women, like their soccer counterparts, gained a head start on countries that have less of a women’s sports tradition, winning the first World Cup in 1991 and taking second place in 1994 and 1998. But with other countries catching up, the women didn’t reach the semifinals again until 2017, when they lost to France 31-23 in the bronze medal game.

Sevens has been played since the late 19th century, but international play only ratcheted up 20 years ago with the introduction of the World Series. The women’s series launched in 2012.

The 2018-19 season was the best in U.S. women’s sevens history. Until then, the best U.S. finish was fourth in the inaugural, abbreviated World Series of 2012-13. The men also had bounced around fifth and sixth place overall for a few seasons before finishing second last year.

Both teams will be hoping to improve on their performances from 2016, when rugby sevens debuted in the Olympics. The men opened with a 26-0 rout over host Brazil but gave up a last-second lead against Argentina and wound up missing out on the quarterfinals by a single point. The women reached the quarterfinals but were shut out 5-0 by New Zealand.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. rugby concludes best-ever season

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. ended the 2016-17 World Rugby Sevens Series ranked fifth, its best result in the Series’ 18 seasons, after finishing fourth in the season’s final tournament on Sunday in London. The U.S. ranked sixth the two previous seasons.

Perry Baker became the first U.S. player to lead the Series in tries, with 57. He was second last season, a distant 18 tries behind South Africa’s Seabelo Senatla, who finished tied for fourth this season.

Baker also paced the Series with 285 points (a try is worth five points). Teammate and captain Madison Hughes finished third with 279 points.

“It’s easy to score when the guys on the inside do all the work,” Baker told reporters in London.

Baker, who is known for his highlight-reel tries and no-look passes, became the focal point of the U.S. attack this season with Carlin Isles, who is known as the “fastest man in rugby,” sidelined for eight of the Series’ 10 tournaments with various injuries. Isles scored more tries than any other player at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where rugby sevens made its Olympic debut. Baker and Isles are nicknamed “The Slow Bros” because they are two of the fastest players on the pitch, but two of the slowest off of it.

South Africa topped the Rugby World Series standings for the first time since 2008-09. South Africa claimed the bronze medal at the Rio Games.

Fiji, the 2016 Olympic champions, finished third. The U.S. finished ninth at the Rio Olympics.

Coverage from London will be televised Monday at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Several members of the rugby sevens team, including Hughes, will join the 15-a-side program this summer. USA Rugby will open its Emirates Airline Summer Series on June 10 in Harrison, N.J. on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Fiji puts Olympic champion rugby team on dollars, coins

Fiji, GB advance to men’s rugby’s gold medal game; USA finish 9th

Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Fiji and Great Britain will contend the first ever gold medal game in men’s rugby sevens.

Fiji led 10-5 at halftime of its semifinal with Japan on tries from Vatemo Ravouvou and Josua Tuisova and matched that offense in the second half while blanking Japan to scoop a 20-5 win and move onto the final.

South Africa drew first blood in its semifinal against Great Britain through Kyle Brown, but Dan Norton’s lightning run early in the second half led to a try and a point-blank conversion from Tom Mitchell to make it 7-5. The score held up.

Japan and South Africa will go for bronze. Fifth through eighth will be determined before the medal matches. WATCH HERE beginning at 4:30 p.m. EDT.


The United States beat Spain 24-12 to clinch ninth spot in Olympics men’s rugby sevens, and finish the tourney with a respectable 3-3 record.

A lightning-quick move from Spain’s Pablo Fontes put them up 5-0, but Danny Barrett executed another clever, shifting run to level things. Madison Hughes’ conversion put the Yanks up 7-5.

They added to the lead through Carlin Isles, and the teams traded tries from Angel Lopez and Maka Unufe to leave it 19-12 with 90 seconds to play. Isles added another try late.

Kenya beat Brazil 24-0 to finish 11th. The fifth through eight games are played before the bronze and gold medal matches later this afternoon.