Top two have no obvious weaknesses - Day
Former England international turned commentator Sue Day considers the battle for the title as the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series touches down in China for the penultimate round.
It will be interesting to see how the battle at the top of the Women’s Sevens World Series unfolds in China. The back-to-back events in Atlanta and Sao Paulo were a really big test of stamina for all of the teams involved and it was perhaps not surprising that the three that came through the test were New Zealand, Australia and Canada, the teams with the best combination of strength in depth and pure physical fitness.
The Canadians will be kicking themselves after the Sao Paulo semi. It looked like they were cruising to victory against New Zealand: a couple of scores up with a couple of minutes to play and yet somehow they managed to let New Zealand back into it. With a bit more tactical nous they would have closed out the game. It should have been them in the final and, whilst I’m sure they will have learnt a lot from it, it will have been a very painful learning experience.
From what we’ve seen so far, you’d have to make those three teams favourites in China, but we shouldn’t write off everyone else just yet.
The USA has made a really exciting selection with the likes of Elana Meyers coming into the squad, fresh from the Sochi Winter Olympics. The team will be missing the extraordinary Jessica Javelet, another of their cross-over athletes, but if Meyer has anything like the impact in China that Javelet had in Brazil and Atlanta, then it should ease the pain.
England too have changed their squad and the returning Rachael Burford, Marlie Packer and Megan Ellery will certainly strengthen their squad. They are the only non-contracted core team and they got better and better as the last tournaments went on with the time they had together.
We arrive in China with Australia and New Zealand locked together at the top of the standings, eight points clear of third placed Canada, and I was recently asked what it is that stands them apart from other teams.
The simple answer is that they have no obvious weaknesses: they have good pace across the whole team, not just out on the wing; they play Sevens with their heads up and the ball in two hands, so you never know what they are going to do; they have excellent strength in depth.
A new challenge
Both teams also have central contracts now and so will just get better and better. Australia have recently centralised in Narrabeen and they will undoubtedly benefit from that. They are based with the men’s team which is something new and a bit different and an excellent opportunity for them to challenge themselves. As a sports person it is easy to become stale doing the same things day in day out, and so when you have the opportunity it can be so important as it keeps you interested and, above all, challenged.
With regard to the pools in China, one side I am really looking forward to seeing in Guangzhou is Fiji. They were a really exciting team to watch at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow and you could see that they had the raw skills, but perhaps not quite the fitness to last long enough.
I imagine that is something they have been working away at ever since and it will be great for them to have the opportunity to play England and Australia in the pool stages in China.
Australia and England have certainly seen a lot of each other and that should be a good match up, as ever.
Pool C is the tightest one to call, with Canada, USA, Russia and France. We haven’t seen France for a few tournaments but they did really well in the Six Nations and will have taken a lot of confidence from that. Russia, as we know, have some exceedingly strong runners and the US are trialling some of that cross-over talent. Any one of the teams in this pool can beat any other on their day, but I’d have to say Canada would be favourites to top the pool.
Whatever happens, though, I’m sure we’re in for another fascinating weekend of Women’s Sevens.