Any doubt about the importance of fifteen-a-side rugby to players will be cast aside in Nyon in Switzerland this weekend when two of Europe’s smaller women’s rugby nations meet in a test match.
Despite opportunities to play international sevens, pressure from players in Belgium and Switzerland has ensured that fifteen-a-side tests are also part of their calendar – even at some not insignificant personal expense.
This will also be an especially big day for Switzerland (Europe’s newest women’s test rugby nation) as a careful four year development programme takes its next big step – their first home test.
Like Belgium, Switzerland have been part of Europe’s sevens circuit since the first tournament, in 2003. However leading players such as the current captain (and team manager) Carolin Reischauer have always had ambitions beyond this.
“I’ve been playing now for eight years in Switzerland”, said Carolin when interviewed earlier this year, “and it’s really cool to see how rugby is developing in Switzerland.
"We pushed to be allowed to form a fifteens team. For the first few years, starting in 2009, we just gathered up some of the best players in the clubs, borrowed some kit, and started playing some of the higher ranking Italian and French clubs that were within easy reach by car and started from there.”
It was a learning experience for many players who had not played fifteen-a-side rugby before – defeat in their second game against Monza in particular coming due to inexperience in a game that could have been won.
After that, however, Switzerland went on to win an international club tournament in Gent without conceding a point. With this succeess some limited resources came their way which allowed Switzerland to play their first test match last season when they travelled to Brussels. They won, against much more experienced opposition, 17-7, and last October played (and won) their second test when they visited Helsinki to play Finland, this time by 15-5.
This weekend they will defending that 100% record in test rugby with their first ever home test, against Belgium as part of “Swiss Rugby Day” at Nyon, with the women’s game (kick-off 14:00 CET) preceding a men’s world cup qualifier. The women will also be playing for silverware - the Jacques Rogge Trophy, which the two teams will now compete for annually.
Resources remain limited. "We have two women (rugby) coaches in Switzerland - there needs to be more encouragement from the federations and it also has to comes from within; good women players once they retire should consider being coaches. Despite some generous subsidizing from the Union players also have to contribute their own money towards travelling to matches aboard.”
Switzerland’s ultimate ambition is to play in the FIRA European Championship – but after their careful growth strategy potential opposition at their level is hard to find: “Unfortunately for XVs, things are not well organized by the Unions and international associations,” asserts Reischauer. “In VIIs you have three divisions and pretty much every country in Europe plays VIIs, so you can find teams at the right level. For XVs you only have competitions for the big countries playing for the European Championship and there’s nothing really organized for the smaller countries. It’s important that many countries like Switzerland just start developing their XVs teams, but this needs competitions.
“For us fifteens is exciting, it’s fun, and one the reasons we dedicate the time to the sport is because there’s a lot of potential, a lot of women are excited to play, even younger girls coming up want to play.”
Switzerland will be wary of being paired with the bigger sides too early and suffering the sort of defeats teams such as Belgium and Finland have had in recent years. It will also be one reason why Belgium did not enter the World Cup qualification tournaments this time. Players in Belgium want to play fifteens as well, but they too are now adopting a similar strategy to Switzerland, growing carefully with games against English club teams, the French Military, and German Invitational XVs.
Switzerland: Patricia Mancini (RC Bern), Beatrice Hodel (GC Zürich), Katja Dick (GC Zürich), Chick Atkinson (GC Zürich), Sabrina Walti (GC Zürich), Judith Martinot (RC Yverdon (Captain), Anuschka Buob (GC Zürich), Sarah Mc Namara (RC Luzern), Esti Duss (RC Luzern), Simone Haymoz (GC Zürich), Carolin Reischauer (GC Zürich), Fabienne Ullmann (RC Bern), Carole Casparis (RC Luzern), Isabella Bauer (GC Zürich), Christa Herrmann (GC Zürich), Muriel Kehl (GC Zürich), Angela Diener (RC Luzern), Petra Imhof (RC Luzern), Cynthia Munsterman (RC Luzern), Rahel Bosshardt (GC Zürich), Leonie Robert (RC Bern), Mirjam Sax (GC Zürich), Aida Stamm (GC Zürich)
Belgium: Cécile Blondiau (Soignies), Marie Clarys-Robion (Dendermonde), Cathy De Geyter (Boitsfort), Carmen De Donder (Dendermonde), Ciska De Grave (Antwerp), Maité Demarbre (Soignies), Systke D’Haeseleir (Dendermonde), Laura Fortemps (Coq Mosan), Margaux Lalli (Frameries), Alison Lenaerts (ROC Ottignies), Stéphanie Lepage (Boitsfort), Valérie Letange (Boitsfort), Christelle Monti (Boitsfort), Nele Pien (Dendermonde), Gaëlle Portier (Coq Mosan), Aude Risselin (Boitsfort), Delphine Rossignol (Boitsfort), Laura Rowies (Boitsfort), Jolien Scheers (Leuven), Margaux Stevins (Boitsfort), Sarah Verzin (Boitsfort)