Sweden women's rugby captain Ulrika Andersson-Hall talks us through a hectic few months for her country which starts this weekend in France at the FIRA European Trophy event.
By Ulrika Andersson-Hall
While the rest of Europe are now in the later stages of their season, we have just started ours!
We have had a particularly long and tough winter and were only allowed on grass two weeks ago. We spent most of the winter in the gym or in the cross-country skiing tracks, but also got together as a national team for selection and training camps a few times.
The most extreme weather had us training at close to -20C on artificial grass. I would have liked to say that this makes us tough, but in truth I think it only makes us wear more clothes. This could be noted at the first league game of the season when the temperature was approaching 15C (above zero..) and several of us were still playing in thermal underwear covering both arms and legs.
During Easter, the Sweden team was invited to Holland for some much needed training and playing time on grass. We managed to squeeze a lot of rugby into a four day camp and despite two losses against the Dutch it was a very useful trip for us.
We started putting our game plan together and hopefully we are now more match fit and ready for our first big adventure of 2010 - the European Trophy in Strasbourg. We play this tournament every year but the difference this time is that it's not our biggest event of the year and we need to use it as preparation for the World Cup. Another difference is that being one of only two teams at the tournament that have qualified for the World Cup, we are not the unknown underdogs anymore and will therefore play with more pressure to perform.
In the group stage we'll come across Italy, Russia, and Germany. No doubt the Italians will be well up for this first game against us since we beat them in the qualifications in Stockholm last year. With this tournament it feels like the World Cup season is finally kicking off and I'm really looking forward to finally play some competitive rugby after all the winter training. (And secretly I'm also looking forward to spending some leisure time in sunny France, sipping coffee in quaint bistros with my great friends in the Sweden team...)
Looking ahead towards the summer and the World Cup, we have club games all of May and June followed by two national team camps. With the final selection for the World Cup squad not happening until July, there is still a lot to play for and some difficult decisions to be made by the coaches. The competition for a place in the squad has never been as tough.
This obviously adds to the pressure when we go to the European Trophy, but hopefully it also means that we will play hard and set ourselves off on a good start towards the World Cup.
For a preview of the FIRA European Trophy see here.