All systems set for round two in Houston
In her latest column for the official Women's Sevens World Series website, Scrumqueens.com editor Ali Donnelly looks looks ahead to an exciting fortnight as the countdown to Houston continues.
The announcement of the pools and fixtures for the tournament in Houston has reminded everyone just how hugely competitive the all-new IRB Women’s World Sevens Series is.
New Zealand - champions of round one in Dubai - face a mouth-watering pool clash with England, who will be much stronger in Texas with the re-introduction of a number of its senior players who missed out in the first round due to Fifteens commitments.
New Zealand have already announced their squad for the tournament and have brought back five of their own experienced players who were on Black Fern duty in December. That tie is undoubtedly the pick of the pool clashes where you can expect returnees such as Kelly Brazier and Kendra Cocksedge to be key for New Zealand, while the return of the likes of Jo Watmore and Heather Fisher for England will also make a huge difference.
Core side Netherlands are also in this pool alongside newcomers Trinidad & Tobago. The Dutch will have strong ambitions of their own and will certainly be aiming to place higher than the eighth they managed in Dubai, but even with pace-setter Kelly van Harskamp in good form, this is an incredibly tough pool for the progressing Netherlands.
South Africa were the surprise package in Dubai, going all the way to the final with some superb displays, but repeating the feat won’t be easy in Houston as they face host nation USA and Canada as well as the improving Argentines in Pool B.
For South Africa, players such as Phumeza Gadu and Zenay Jordaan are rising stars on the Sevens scene and if they can get ahead in their pool, they will still more than believe they are capable of going all the way this time around.
In the final pool Australia face Russia, South American champions Brazil and Asian newcomers Japan.
By their own admission, the reigning world champions Australia were disappointed with their results in Dubai, and will be missing their captain Rebecca Tavo in Houston who is recovering from injury. Chris Lane’s team will be confident in this pool, though they face a hugely physical test with Russia, who have been improving month by month. Brazil are well used to winning titles in South America and will be looking to make a step up here while Japan are just dipping their toes in international Sevens at this level.
There have been a number of notable developments in the women’s Sevens game in recent months, not least the increased training programmes by a number of leading sides, and these will make a huge difference to the standards of the women’s Sevens game.
England’s Sevens squad is now training three times a week in London, effectively on a semi-professional basis in the lead-up to Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow, while the USA recently announced that 16 players are now training full-time as professional athletes.
Those players train full-time at the Olympic Training Centre (OTC) in Chula Vista, California, and, while the athletes will live off-site, they will have full use of the high performance facilities including recovery and analysis equipment, sports psychologists and dieticians.
With Canada, New Zealand and Australia all also pushing ahead on securing more funding for their squads, expect a sharp rise in performance and standards across the board over the rest of the series, especially among the core teams.
Ali Donnelly is the editor of Women's Rugby website, Scrumqueens.com.