Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eagles Show Grit But Fall To New Zealand In RWC Semis

Except in a few quarters the Eagles were all but written off ahead of their Women's World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. As the top second place team among the three pools there was some doubt in some world media whether the Eagles would hold it close against New Zealand. Although the team fell 45-12 to New Zealand they proved all of their doubters wrong with one of the best matches of the tournament and were equal to New Zealand in most aspects of the game. Unfortunately that strong effort wasn't enough against the best team in the world, especially in the last twenty minutes of the match when New Zealand were able to pull away.

It didn't start out well for the Eagles. New Zealand have put up a lot of points this tournament and it looked to be the case early. Just a couple of minutes into the match Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali scored to put New Zealand up 5-0. However, it was short-lived as the Eagles backs went to work resulting in a score from Kristen Thomas. The Eagles backs, nearly all of whom are on the 7s team together, have been a strong point all tournament and were strong again in the match. When Alev Kelter hit the conversion the Eagles held a 7-5.

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That lead was hardly surprising given how the team played early in the match. The defense was particularly strong with some huge, solid tackles. It didn't force as many New Zealand turnovers as they would have likes but it did prevent them from running in more scores outside of a penalty.

Still, you can't keep New Zealand off the board forever, especially if they have a set piece opportunity. That was the case with their next try and Portia Woodman simply ran a brilliant line from a scrum to slalom around the U.S. defense for the score. The Eagles would continue to press and had a golden opportunity to respond to the score but they found themselves just short of the line. They did have a penalty chance but instead choose to run it where they lost it into contact.

With a half under their belts the Eagles were every bit as good as New Zealand. Defensively they were outstanding and had they been able to finish a couple of chances they could have even go into the locker rooms with the lead.

Even better, the Eagles came out firing in the second half as well. Unfortunately New Zealand started to figure out the Eagles. Another amazing run from Woodman put New Zealand up 20-7 and a penalty would extend it to 23-7.

The Eagles did make it interesting with about twenty minutes left in the match. Taking a New Zealand kick ahead Alev Kelter was able to break through the defense for a score in the corner. Suddenly it was just 23-12 and the Eagles were right back in it. However, New Zealand began to turn up the pressure, despite being shown a yellow card, to get two more tries from Woodman, replacement hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, and Kelly Brazier to seal the match.

Despite the eventual lopsided score this was a match the Eagles can look back on with pride. It's important to remember that the only warm-up match the team had was against the WPL All-Stars. Had they had more funding to prepare for the tournament and some better competition who knows what they could have achieved. All of that said, they proved all of their doubters wrong but making New Zealand work for their win.

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