Australia: Series pain for World Cup gain
Almost four years have passed since Australia's women lifted the Cup at the first Rugby World Cup Sevens for women. Then they were undeniably the world's best, but as time has passed players have moved on and other nations have certainly done their homework, leaving the playing field far more level in 2013.
On the evidence of the first two rounds in the IRB Women's Sevens World Sevens, in which the Australians currently lie second to New Zealand, a title defence in Moscow is not out of the question. However, it would require an uplift in form and something they have not managed in a while: a tournament win.
From speaking with the players and the coach Chris Lane, it is clear they are viewing the season's four Series tournaments as 'prep' for the World Cup. In fact, flying in 'under the radar' could be Australia's best ploy.
"Obviously to win the first World Series would be a great achievement, but the reality this year is that we are using each tournament as a building block toward the World Cup," said Lane, whose sentiments were echoed by his first choice captain Rebecca Tavo, a part of that World Cup-winning vintage in Dubai back in 2009.
"Currently we’re not where we want to be in terms of competing," admitted Tavo, who made her comeback from injury at Hong Kong's invitational tournament last weekend, where the Australians finished runners-up to Canada.
"We’re still a work in progress but every tournament we play in the World Series is building on our experience.
Reaching new frontiers
"Houston was a great competition. The standard had improved even from the great standard of Dubai and a lot of teams were even stronger. Any team can win on the day and there’s definitely a few teams that stand out at tournaments but the World Series has proved that any team can knock anyone over. It really keeps you on your toes.
"It’s so great to be able to travel to all these unique destinations on the World Series. We’ve never played in China before so it’s obviously going to be a very new experience for us," Tavo added.
Lane agrees that the standard across the board has risen at a pace which has surprised even those within the women's game, leading to an interesting Series table and a far more competitive World Cup than the very successful maiden event in 2009.
"I’m very impressed with how the game is going, someone new pops up at every tournament and this reflects the professional programmes that are being run all round the world," said Lane.
"A lot of hard work is being done in training to produce the type of performances we are seeing.
"England at full strength (in Houston) were certainly different from Dubai. For us it was the opportunity to test ourselves without some of our more experienced players and we did OK.
"We have been consistent with our performances since Dubai 2011 but have yet to win a tournament. To win this Series I believe we would need to win the two remaining tournaments, which will be very challenging but we will be having a real go at achieving this in the lead-up to Moscow."
The action from round 3 in Guangzhou, China will be streamed live by the IRB - more details to follow on wsws.irb.com.
Video: Story so far - 2012/13 Women's Sevens World Series