While Russia celebrated a successful defence of their Malemort Sevens title following an exciting 22-21 win over France in the final, Ireland and England also had a positive weekend after picking up valuable points towards Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 qualification through their third and fourth place finishes in France.
With qualification via the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2016-17 looking beyond them with only one round left to go, Ireland and England knew they needed a big performance in the first tournament of the two-legged Rugby Europe Women’s Grand Prix Sevens Series to make the most of the last opportunity available to them to book a ticket to San Francisco next year.
Ireland won five of their six matches, including a double over England, to take third place – their highest finish at Malemort, while a 24-15 semi-final defeat to Russia consigned England to fourth place.
Ireland’s Amee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe showed again what a deadly finisher she is, top-scoring with nine tries over the weekend including five in two games against England.
“A fourth-placed finish puts us in a good position going into the final leg in Kazan next month. If we can put into place everything we’ve learnt this weekend, I’m confident of a good show from the squad then,” said England coach James Bailey.
Champions Russia scored 106 points in wins against Poland, Spain and the Netherlands without conceding any in reply to romp through the pool stages. They then kept their line intact in beating Belgium 46-0 in the quarter-final.
While England were a tougher proposition in the semi-final, Alena Mikhaltsova added to her brace of tries against Belgium with another double to book their place in the final against a French side that had also dominated on day one with pool wins over Wales, Belgium and Sweden, before accounting for Italy and Wales in the knockout stages.
Tries from Mikhaltsova, Marina Petrova and Baizat Khamidova eased Russia into a 17-5 half-time lead. France got the first score of the second half but Elena Zdrokova put Russia two scores ahead again at 22-14 with their fourth try. A breathtaking finish ensued when France crossed for a converted try with a minute to go but the Russians held on for the narrowest of wins.
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Of the top two placed teams this weekend, Russia have already qualified for RWC Sevens 2018 and runners-up France look likely to earn their ticket through the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, while Spain, who finished fifth, are assured of their place as a semi-finalist from the 2013 edition in Moscow.
Wales will need to improve on their sixth-place finish in Malemort when the Grand Prix concludes in Kazan, Russia, on 8-9 July, to have any chance of making it to California at either Ireland or England’s expense.
Meanwhile, Ireland and England are back in action this weekend in the final round of the world series in Clermont-Ferrand, before turning their attention to the final round of the Rugby Europe series.
Photo credit: Neil Kennedy/Thierry Van de Put