Sue Day: Interesting challenge awaits teams
Former England international turned commentator Sue Day looks back on a memorable tournament in Dubai and ahead to the first IRB Women’s Sevens World Series double header.
Nearly two months have passed since the opening round in Dubai and what stands out for me from that event has to be the final and the fact that New Zealand were so far ahead only for Australia to show great guts and determination to fight back.
All the experts were watching New Zealand playing and thinking they had won it, were simply fantastic and quite far ahead of everyone else. They have earned a really good reputation for themselves and won both the inaugural Series and Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2013.
People can get quite intimidated by the black shirt when New Zealand keeps winning. For Australia to manage to beat them is important, not just for Australia but for all of the other teams as well. It also shows that you can never assume a result in Sevens until the final whistle.
New Zealand certainly thought they had the game sewn up and coach Sean Horan took off some of his stronger and top performing players. They won’t have enjoyed losing but it will have been a huge learning curve for the players, especially the young ones.
The two finalists will certainly be among the contenders when the Series resumes with the double header in Atlanta and Sao Paulo next month, the first time the teams will have to contend with back-to-back tournaments.
That will be a big challenge for every team because it is very, very difficult to play a Sevens tournament at the weekend, recover over a few days and then play another tournament the following weekend. On the men’s Series you hardly ever see the same team win both tournaments back-to-back because it is just so demanding physically.
Who will be best equipped to handle the challenge? You would think it will be those sides that are now centrally contracted because they are playing and training together more often so can have more intense and consistent, Sevens specific fitness programmes.
The draw for Atlanta was made last week and Pool A looks really tough. It’s very difficult to call with Australia, Canada and USA all potential finalists. It’s certainly a really tough draw for China!
Spain will be pretty pleased with their draw alongside Russia, Brazil and Japan in Pool C. But saying that Brazil are looking strong. They are a squad that is getting a lot of time together and improving all the time, even though they are not quite up there yet.
It will be a tough return for the Netherlands. They weren’t in Dubai having lost their core team status and they certainly have a tough draw with New Zealand, England and Ireland in Pool B. But then if you’re going to win it you have to beat the best teams!
Given that we are back in the US it is also worth remembering that England beat New Zealand twice in the Houston event last year and there is such a lot of previous between these nations. It’s such a great rivalry, one that goes back a decade or two, and this will be the latest chapter.
I think squad selection will be really interesting for the next two rounds and will show what degree Unions are concentrating on Sevens. There is a Fifteens World Cup coming up in August and unlike the men’s teams you tend to get more crossover between the Sevens and Fifteens squads in the women’s game.
Balancing Sevens and Fifteens
A lot of Unions will have this in the back of their minds. For me, playing international rugby and having something like the Women’s Series is great preparation, but we will have to wait and see whether Unions will rest some players.
The Six Nations is going to be a key piece of preparation for the northern hemisphere teams for the World Cup and, as it coincides with the next two rounds of the Series, you have to assume England and Ireland will need to rest some players from the Sevens Series in order to play their strongest teams in the Six Nations.
Out in Dubai people like New Zealand, Australia and Canada had well over half their 2013 World Cup squad while England had only three players with previous World Cup experience, which illustrates the demands of the timing of the Fifteens programmes on northern hemisphere players.
It is a really interesting challenge for Unions, who will want the best possible side but they have to do what is right for the sport and the players. I would love to see the likes of Kayla McAlister playing in the Fifteens World Cup but whether that is the right thing for her I don’t know. Players need to rest at some point!
The fact that there is now an international Sevens Series is just fantastic for the women’s game. How players can cross over and back again shows the growth of Sevens can only be good for women’s rugby as a whole and different countries can challenge themselves.
It has given players something to aim for and the fact that it is now an Olympic sport has an effect too as there is extra funding that was not previously there. It has a galvanising effect on players.
Predictions for Atlanta
If you get to play one Sevens tournament a year it is probably harder to motivate yourself in the long, dark, cold nights to go training, but if you have got an amazing Series, like this one, how can you not put in everything you have got with the aim to get in the team and to win?
One team I am looking forward to seeing in the next rounds is Brazil. They had good results in Dubai and if they can build on that, in two years time they will be hosting the Olympics and there can be no better motivation than that!
Hopefully it will be a good couple of tournaments for them. They haven’t far to travel to Atlanta and then they come home whereas everyone else is travelling on to another country so they have got that in their favour.
If I was put the spot to pick a winner, I would have to say New Zealand, assuming they pick their strongest side. They had the look of winners all the way through until two minutes into the second half in Dubai. I think they were the strongest team there and with people like Honey Hireme and Kayla McAlister they have just got so much fire power and are hard to stop. That said, you can’t write off the determination of the Aussies!
Being a proud Englishwoman I know that prediction won’t be well-received at home but it is difficult for the England team, with the demands of the Six Nations to weigh up.
I’m keen to see what the Netherlands can do. They are playing together for a long time now, they have a new coach in Chris Lane and that often creates a fresh impetus and it will be interesting to see what impact he has on their style of play.
Do you agree with Sue's prediction for the Atlanta Sevens ... let us know @irbwomens