Naya Tapper participates in a women’s rugby sevens qualifying match against China at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo.
It had been over two years since the American rugby sevens team reached a tournament championship, and this weekend in Malaga, Spain, they did more than that.
The Eagles reached their first World Rugby Sevens Series final since winning in Glendale, Arizona, in the fall of 2019, finishing with a 35-10 win over Russia in the first of back-to-back tournament weekends in Spain. They will play in Seville next weekend.
Olympian Kristen Thomas started the game for the US in the final with an incredible run, storming past the Russian defense and then racing in to score in the first minute of the game. Russia tied the score two minutes later, but scored only one more goal in the ninth minute. Meanwhile, Olympian Naya Tapper scored for the Eagles in the fourth minute, Jaz Gray added a few to the tally and Olympian Ilona Maher, who was named player of the final, secured the victory for the US.
This weekend also marked the first time back on the field since Tokyo for Olympians Lauren Doyle, Nicole Heavirland and Kristi Kirshe.
The season kicked off in November with consecutive weekends in Dubai, with the US finishing eighth and fifth to place the team in fifth place overall. The win moved the team to fourth place.
The American men, who are also riding in Malaga this weekend, finished sixth. That ensured that the team finished fourth in the season standings.
The US women defeated rivals Canada and Poland in Pool B, which also included Fiji, but the Olympic bronze medalists had to withdraw due to travel restrictions. The US then defeated England and France to reach the cup final.
Head coach Emilie Bydwell told USA Rugby heading into the weekend: “With just six World Series events this season, the next two tournaments will form the middle third of our season and will be important opportunities for us to start the next chapter for our team. and take the necessary steps forward to build our platform for the Rugby World Cup in 2022.
“We will focus heavily on our ability to create line breaks, use momentum and field possession to make decisions and improve our speed of support. Defensively, we’ll see if we can complete our gear, improve the integrity of our defensive form and the speed at which we reconnect in the transition game.”