The French displayed some excellent quick hands in the backline and showcased that in an opening try that sent the ball to the wing faster than most of the USA defense could track. Only Kristen Thomas was there to face off with lock Lenaigh Corson, and the big French second row was too strong and powerful to be stopped.
Down 5-0 the Eagles replied quickly with a penalty goal from Alev Kelter, and it would be Kelter’s boot that kept them in the game. France replied with a period of concerted pressure and then flanker Marjorie Mayans surged over – targeting flyhalf Gabby Cantorna as she did so. France then caught a bit of a lucky break when a small handoff just wasn’t seen by the USA interior defenders, and off galloped hooker Gaelle Mignot for a try and a 19-3 lead.
The USA got a crucial one back, camping out on the French tryline and finally seeing flanker Abby Gustaitis taking a good angle and scoring on the stroke of halftime. Kelter’s conversion made it 19-10.
It was 19-13 early in the second period with another Kelter kick, but France was hunting tries. Corson thundered through a weak tackle and was off, just able, this time, to offload to scrumhalf Jade le Pesq. That made it 24-13, and then a carbon copy of the first French try, with quick hands from the breakdown too fast for the USA, and leaving Thomas all alone to stop a big runner. Flanker Julie Annery did the honors this time.
The Eagles got back a little pride off a weird play. Jessica Javelet recovered a loose ball, and lofted a loopy pass to fullback Cheta Emba. A revelation since early 2016, when she deserved (but didn’t get) a look on the USA Olympic team, Emba has continually improved. In this instance, she held onto the ball and tried a kick downfield. The kick bounced off a French player and landed in Kelter’s arms. The center raced off to the line, and just as it appeared she might be caught, dished to Emba in support for a try the fullback fully deserved.
Kelter was good on the conversion, but the USA was still eight points adrift at 31-23, and there wasn’t enough time for two more scores. France held on.
“We knew they were going to be relentless,” said USA captain and hooker Tiffany Faaee. “We knew that across the board from their backs to their forwards they were going to be very strong … it was an amazing effort from our girls fighting to the last minute.”
New Zealand defeated England 41-32 to win the World Cup behind three tries from Toka Natua. Canada hammered Australia 43-12 for 5th (and capping a 4-1 tournament in which Canada lost only to New Zealand). Wales beat Ireland 27-17 for 7th, Italy took 9th 20-15 over Spain, and Japan beat Hong Kong 44-5 for 11th.