England Women finish third in the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens in dramatic style after Heather Fisher scored in the final minute of sudden death extra time for a 10-5 victory over France.
Michaela Staniford ran the length of the field to give England a 5-0 lead in the first half but France equalised in the 14th minute to send the game into five minutes of additional time.
The performance characterised the heart and determination that England had shown in their earlier games, coming from behind to beat Canada 17-12 before fighting back from 12-0 down against Russia, only to be denied a place in the final by the last play in a semi-final which finished 19-12.
Head Coach Simon Middleton said: “We finished with a tough game against Australia yesterday but it is all about day two in sevens. The girls executed the game plan perfectly against Canada and then against Russia we were potentially one play away from making the final. To bounce back from that disappointment and find a way to win against France, a team we are very familiar with, was fantastic.
“In the huddle before extra time we just talked about the need to stay composed, because we were rushing our set ups a little, but at the same time when the ball was in play keep the tempo up. The depth of our squad means that we have 12 players, all capable of making an impact, it is a massive advantage for us.”
In the third place play-off, an impressive defensive effort by England, led by Alice Richardson, allowed them to hold onto the narrow lead created by Staniford, but after absorbing waves of French attack Les Bleus finally broke through.
With their missed conversion came sudden death and it was apt that Fisher was the player to burst round the edge of the French defence to round off an impressive tournament which also included a crucial try in the comeback attempt against Russia.
Middleton added: “I couldn’t be happier for Heather Fisher. She has transformed her game over the last twelve months which is a massive testimony to her as a person as well as an athlete and a player.”
Against Russia, England found themselves 12-0 down within three minutes before Amy Wilson-Hardy scored her fifth try of the tournament and Fisher added a second after the break.
With the scores level, a solid defensive effort from England made for a tense final four minutes as possession swung between the two sides.
It looked as though extra time was on the cards until Russia forced a turn-over on half way and raced to score in the final passage of play.
The quarter-final was equally heart-racing with Canada twice coming from behind – first to equalise, cancelling out Wilson-Hardy’s early try, before nudging ahead 12-10 after Emily Scarratt had chipped and chased to score just before the break.
Determined not to be denied a place in the semi-final, Vicky Fleetwood raced down field and taking the contact she popped the ball to Jo Watmore who was at full pace in support to touch down under the posts. Richardson converted for the full seven points.
It has been a successful two days for the women’s sevens programme with the GB Select side, which included two nominated players from both Wales and Scotland, winning their international invitational tournament, beating France Development Women 31-5 in the final on the main pitch.
Middleton added: “I am so pleased for Richie Pugh [Team GB Women Sevens Assistant Coach] and his management who worked with the side. I was fortunate to be able to watch the final and they were sensational. They showed the great quality we have across the squad. It was also brilliant to see the Welsh and Scottish girls getting some game time and playing outstandingly well, they looked really comfortable as a unit with our girls.
“It is a competitive squad and it’s going to be an exciting year for us as we look ahead and prepare for Rio.”
Results from day two:
England 17 – 12 Canada
Tries: Amy Wilson-Hardy, Emily Scarratt, Jo Watmore
Conversions: Alice Richardson
England 12 – 19 Russia
Tries: Amy Wilson-Hardy, Heather Fisher
Conversions: Katy Mclean
England 10 – 5 France
Tries: Michaela Staniford, Heather Fisher
Results from yesterday’s pool games:
England Women 35-0 Japan
Tries: Amy Wilson-Hardy (3), Fran Matthews, Vicky Fleetwood
Conversions: Katy Mclean (4), Alice Richardson
England Women 14-7 Spain
Tries: Emily Scarratt, Heather Fisher
Conversions: Katy Mclean, Alice Richardson
England Women 7-24 Australia
Tries: Jo Watmore
Conversions: Alice Richardson
Report courtesy of England Rugby