US lose bridesmaids tag with long-awaited final victory
As the American women crowded around their new trophy, one beamed and shouted out perhaps the quintessential phrase of the game: 'Now we don't have to cry into our beer.'
For years, the US have been unable to reach the final of the Cable & Wireless Women's Hong Kong Sevens - captain Christine Ringgenberg said that in her previous five years of playing they would always choke in the semi-finals - but last night they not only took centre stage, but beat Canada 21-7.
'The energy was phenomenal,' Ringgenberg said. 'Watching [the final] in the stands is the worst feeling in the world and coming out and playing and winning in this energy is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.'
With six-time winners New Zealand absent, it was a chance for other teams to break through, none more so than the US and Canada, two familiar and formidable foes who competed in a physical game that was close in the first half, before the Americans went on to dominate in the second.
'Our whole motto was building the wall as a team and if we did that we figured we could stop anybody,' Ellie Karvoski said.
It was Canadian Heather Moyse who scored first, before Cristina Mastrangelo tied it up at 7-7. At half-time, it was 14-7 to the Americans and then the Canadians had difficulty getting the ball out of their half.
'We had a few good first minutes,' Canadian captain Maria Gallo said. 'We weren't as deep in the second half and some legs got tired. Their last try was just phase after phase and then a quick tap over the line and those are really hard to stop once they have the momentum.'
Win or lose, the game, said US coach Julia McCoy, was also about 'stadium experience'. Whereas this tournament was once the highlight on the women's rugby sevens calendar, it can now be used as part of the process in reaching the grander stage - the first ever Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens being staged next March, alongside the men's tournament, in Dubai.
'Hong Kong has always been the biggest tournament we can get to and so now having a World Cup, it gives us a chance to showcase at a world level and it validates what we do,' Ringgenberg said.
In 2007, the Canadians returned to the tournament from a nine-year hiatus because after the World Cup was announced, the national governing body wanted to form a squad to work towards that goal. 'This is just a building thing and while being in the final is huge, that was always our goal,' Canadian coach Natascha Wesch said.
The inclusion of the 16-team women's World Cup comes as rugby makes another attempt at becoming an Olympic sport. The fact is not lost on the women, though they are not about to begrudge the opportunity to have a championship.
'Do I wish ideally that women's rugby would have 35,000 people interested?' McCoy asked. 'Yes I do, why wouldn't I? There's not a girl out here who isn't jealous of what the men's programmes have, but life is what it is and you play it to your advantage as far as you can go.'
Yesterday, that advantage extended to playing in front of their largest crowd yet. Next March, it will extend one step further.