16 nations converged on Dubai to take part in the first ever Rugby World Cup Sevens women's competition, which ran alongside the men's event at 'The Sevens' with Australia and China given the honour of contesting the opening match.
China were just one of the emerging nations occupying the same stage as the world's best teams over the two competition days, with Thailand, Brazil - the dominant force in South America - and Uganda others to leave their mark. For Uganda in particular this was an historic occasion, given they were their country's first ever national team to qualify for a World Cup in any sport.
Uganda may not have won a match in Dubai, but Sevens captain Helen Buteme has since admitted that gracing the Rugby World Cup Sevens stage has "changed the face of Women's Rugby in Uganda forever" with player numbers continuing to rise and more girls' schools wanting to introduce the sport. The fact that Rugby Sevens has now become an Olympic sport is certain to increase these interest levels, not only in Uganda but around the world.
The 16 teams all seized their opportunity to play on the world stage and showcase all that the Women's Game has to offer and more besides with plenty of upsets and nail-biting affairs along the way.
One of the biggest surprises on day one was undoubtedly Australia's 14-10 loss to France in their second pool match, the first time the Wallaroos Sevens team had lost since their formation in 2008. The Oceania champions still made it through to the Cup quarter finals, but as runners up in their pool the second seeds would have to face the number one side and pre-event favourites England.
Once again the Wallaroos had to come from behind against South Africa with two late tries securing a 19-10 victory and a title showdown with New Zealand, who had edged past USA 14-12 with captain Hannah Porter's try proving the winning score.
England had not conceded a point in topping their pool, but it was they who were left in floods of tears after second half tries from Nicole Beck and Rebecca Tavo gave Australia a 17-10 victory and left only South Africa standing between them and the final after they too came from behind to defeat Spain 15-7. Spain led at half time through Laura Llado, but Thamie Faleni and Tash Hofmeester scored second-half tries to put them into the semi finals.
Australia 17 (Tobie McGann, Nicole Beck, Rebecca Tavo tries; Tobie McGann conversion) def England 10
South Africa 15 Spain 7
The other quarter finals were more clear cut, Carla Hohepa scoring a hat-trick as New Zealand preserved their position as the only unbeaten team left in the competition with a 33-12 defeat of Canada, setting up a meeting with USA, the 19-0 conquerors of France.
New Zealand 33 Canada 12
USA 19 France 0
Australia 19 (Rebecca Tavo, Bo de la Cruz, Tricia Brown tries; Tobie McGann, Tricia Brown conversions) def South Africa 10
South Africa's Phumeza Gadu put South Africa in control but Australia coach Stanton rung the changes and two of his replacements, Bo De la Cruz and Tricia Brown, made immediate impacts. Both women score tries to clinch the victory and progress to the final.
New Zealand 14 USA 12
Both sides scored twice but Amy Daniels' try for the Americans was unconverted in the first half. USA captain Christy Ringgengberg had an outstanding game, setting up Daniel's try, before crossing the whitewash herself, but it was Hannah Porter with a second-half try who lead her team into the final.
China booked their place in the final of the Bowl with a 28-0 victory over Italy in the first semi final. A try apiece in each half for Fan Wenjuan and Yang Hong ensured they would be competing for the first trophy in Women's RWC Sevens history.
In the other semi final, Russia took a 12-7 lead into the second half, with Natalia Selyutina crossing twice. Beatriz 'Baby' Futuro took the tie into sudden death extra time before Barbara Santiago scored the crucial points.
The pick of four excellent quarter finals was match between Russia and the Netherlands.
Russia scored two tries in the second half to snatch a 12-5 win. Anastasiya Mukhar'yamova brought the scores level before Alexsandrina Mukhina went under the posts to clinch victory. The Netherlands had gone into the second half with the lead through a Kelly van Harskamp try but were unable to hold on until the end.
The four losing quarter finalists lined up in the semi finals of the Plate. Canada were 12-5 behind courtesy of a Emilie Verouil at half time in the first semi final, but Mandy Marchak and Brooke Hilditch scoring her second of the game enabled Canada to book their spot in the final.
In the second semi final England beat Spain 12-7. Spain went ahead through Berta Garcia's converted try but Rachael Burford cut Spain's lead to two points late in the half. Charlotte Barras scored in the second half to see of the Spaniards in a highly contested match.
The traditional trans-Tasman rivalry meant neither side wanted to give an inch, New Zealand hungry to become the first to unite both the 15-a-side and Sevens World Cups and Australia desperate to preserve their unbeaten record against the Black Ferns in this form of the Game, having recorded the Wallaroos' first ever wins over New Zealand in the Oceania Sevens the year before.
Australia made a strong start to the final with 20-year-old Nicole Beck, one of several recruits from touch football, crossing in the second minute. Debby Hodgkinson powered across four minutes later to put the Australians ahead 10-0.
The loss of Rebecca Tavo to the sin bin left the Australians one short for two minutes and, in her absence, New Zealand capitalized. They scored moments before half time through Justine Lavea and again 17 seconds after the resumption when flyer Carla Hohepa swooped on a kickoff mishandled by the Australians.
There was no further scoring in regulation time, leaving Matcham to collect the Golden Point try that delivered the greatest moment in the history of Australian Women's Rugby. (ARU 2009/IRB 2010)
Australia15 (Nicole Beck, Debby Hodgkinson, Shelly Matcham tries) def New Zealand 10.
Credit: Getty Images/IRB
Day 2 March 7th 2009
|37||16:24||UNITED STATES||12||-||14||NEW ZEALAND||CSF|
Day 1 March 6th 2009
|23||19:04||RUSSIA||0||-||12||UNITED STATES||Pool B|
|22||18:42||NEW ZEALAND||25||-||0||SOUTH AFRICA||Pool D|
|16||16:30||JAPAN||0||-||38||UNITED STATES||Pool B|
|14||15:46||SOUTH AFRICA||26||-||0||UGANDA||Pool D|
|13||15:24||NEW ZEALAND||45||-||0||ITALY||Pool D|
|7||13:12||ENGLAND||17||-||0||UNITED STATES||Pool B|
|6||12:50||SOUTH AFRICA||17||-||5||ITALY||Pool D|
|5||12:28||NEW ZEALAND||50||-||0||UGANDA||Pool D|
The qualifying tournaments were as follows:
Qualified: South Africa and Uganda
South Africa lived up to their billing as favourites, conceding only two tries on the way to the title and beating Uganda 24-0 in the final at the Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kampala.
Seven nations competed for Africa’s two spots - South Africa, Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tunisia joining hosts Uganda - with Botswana entering an international women's competition for the first time.
South Africa confirmed their place in Dubai by beating Kenya in their semi final while Uganda's players shed tears of joy after they edged out Tunisia 7-0 in the other to qualify and become their country's first side to ever reach a World Cup.
Qualified: Japan, Thailand and China
At the beginning of October, Japan and Thailand upset the form book in Asia, the Japanese edging favourites Kazakhstan 5–0 in their semi final and Thailand beating China 14–7 in an equally tough last four match at the qualifiers in Hong Kong.
Japan shaded a tight women's final 17-12, while in the crucial play-off for the third qualifying spot China beat Kazakhstan 17-5 to join Japan and Thailand in the 16-team draw.
Qualified: England, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, France and Italy
England, coached by former men's captain Simon Amor, lived up to their billings as favourites by winning the European Sevens in Limoges, France, in June to qualify with an unbeaten record.
Following on from other impressive victories against the NZ Maori and in the Home Nations Cup at Murrayfield, England defeated the Netherlands 50-0 in the final to lead the European charge to Dubai.
Qualified: Australia and New Zealand
Nicole Beck’s try on full-time snatched a thrilling 22-15 victory for Australia against New Zealand in the final, both sides having already won through to Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 in Dubai by reaching the Oceania Sevens title decider.
The Australians, coached by men’s Sevens captain Shawn Mackay, had to come from behind initially after Selica Winiata raced clear from halfway to score the opening try for New Zealand in a thrilling end to end encounter.
Qualified: Canada and USA
Canada got the better of their arch rivals and neighbours USA in the NAWIRA Sevens final in the last women's regional qualifying tournament, which was played in the Bahamas in late October.
Rosie Corbett raced over the match-winning try to seal a 19-14 victory in Nassau, although both teams will be heading for Dubai after securing the two spots on offer as expected.
“This was a huge win for us, neither of us had been under a whole lot of pressure this weekend and we knew that if we kept our shape on defence and stuck to our game plan, we could compete," said Canada coach Natasha Wesch.
Brazil had the honour of becoming the first women’s team ever to qualify for a Rugby World Cup Sevens after their 45-0 defeat of Argentina in the Punta del Este final in January 2008.
With Paula Ishibashi in inspired form - scoring four tries in that final - Brazil secured a fourth successive CONSUR Sevens title in Uruguay to confirm their place as South America’s leading female team and the region's sole qualifier for Dubai.