Australia's Shannon Parry looks back on a memorable two weeks in the World Series which included a first time snow experience in Atlanta and a superb winning tournament in sunny Brazil.
It's time to reflect on our most recent tour from the snow of Atlanta, Georgia to the sweltering heat of São Paulo, Brazil.
The first leg of the IRB Womens World Series in 2014 saw us travel to the USA.
After being delayed in Dallas, Texas, and not knowing whether or not we would be able to fly, we finally got the all-clear to depart a number of hours later. Hearing that Georgia was in a state of emergency due to a severe snow storm, we had mixed feelings about the flight!
It is safe to fly into a snow storm? If you didn't know already it doesn't really snow or get cold enough in Australia for us to experience such weather conditions. However, a bonus was that most of my team mates were able to see snow for the very first time!
Upon arrival, we were greeted with freezing temperatures. It nothing like we had ever experienced before. so something of a culture shock.
We arrived into the hotel to be told that we are not allowed to go to the training fields as it was too dangerous due to the snow storm. So for the next two days all of the teams were restricted to a ballroom about the size of an eight-lane, 25m swimming pool with two massive chandeliers hanging from the roof.
This was one memorable experience! It is snowing outside and we are training in a ballroom. Who would have thought this might happen considering it hadn't snowed in Atlanta in 10 years?
This clearly did not make preparations for the tournament ideal but there was nothing that we could do about it. The weather was not in our control, and every team was faced with the same situation.
On day two Walshy [Head Coach Tim Walsh] took us out to a very small grass patch in the car park that was covered in snow and we had a run through which was a crazy experience.
We couldn't feel our fingers, our noses were running and our lungs were burning. But that wouldn't stop us from having a traditional snow-ball fight after training. They were flying everywhere and there were plenty of head and body shots!
The fact we would have to play in two days in this weather made us a little nervous. However, Friday rolled around and we were allowed back on the roads, the snow had melted and we were able to go out to the training field. We must once again thank all of the volunteers, officials and liaison officers for helping clearing the snow and ice off the fields so that all of the teams could have a run through before game day the next day.
Before we knew it game day was upon us. Conditions had improved rapidly and the sun was shining!
At the completion of day one we were two from three going down to a strong Canadian team by one try in the final pool game but still in a Cup contention. Day two we were matched up with England in the Cup Quarter-Final which proved to be a tough encounter going into extra time with our captain Sharni Williams crossing the try line to seal the win. This then put us up against Canada who had beaten us the day before and they proved too good once again. After this loss we wanted to bounce back - which we did with a 22-12 win over Russia to claim 3rd place.
After the completion of day two we knew as a team that we weren't far off the mark from making the Final but that little errors at crucial moments cost us. Reflecting on this tournament and knowing that we had to back up and play again in five days it was imperative for us to not ponder on this result. We took the positives and negatives from the tournament with an objective of correcting the negatives for the tournament in São Paulo the following weekend.
Our Atlanta experience was definitely a memorable one. Most of the team saw snow for the first time and played rugby in negative degree temperatures. Overall it was a good week for us but we knew we had things to work on in São Paulo.
On Monday night we travelled to São Paulo with a number of other teams arriving early Tuesday morning. São Paulo was such a beautiful place and had so many different demographics. Everyone was happy and made us feel very welcome. Before we knew it we had completed two training sessions and it was game day Friday.
The conditions were hot but very similar to a hot summer days in Sydney. The sun was shining brightly which meant for fast free flowing rugby.
At the completion of day one we were three from three but knew that on day two we would have to step up our game again to another level. Day two saw a Quarter-Final match against Japan who had given us an early scare in our pool match the previous day.
Stepping up the tempo on day two saw us defeat Japan and faced with a Semi-Final showdown against England. Knowing that the English are very strong competitors in all aspects of the game we knew that we would have to perform at our best to win this game - which we did. At the completion of this game and as we were walking from the field the biggest rain drops started to tumble from the sky. Then the heavens opened up and the rain was torrential. However, by the time the Final against New Zealand rolled around, the rain had stopped. but it was still a slippery surface under foot.
The final saw us matched up against a very strong and dominant New Zealand who had not dropped a game all tournament either. Two undefeated teams, 10 minutes each way, wet conditions, a small but very vocal crowd and before we knew it the whistle was blown and the game was underway. We were 12-0 up at half time with two great tries from Charlotte Caslick and Emma Tonegato but we knew that wasn't enough against the Kiwis.
They are a team that you can never write off. They can score from anywhere on the field. You can never underestimate or clock off when playing such a strong opponent.
A simple message from our coach, Tim Walsh, at half-time was to keep sticking to our structures, keep it simple and hold onto the ball.
The ball was kicked off again to start the second half with neither team giving an inch. We crossed for an early try through in the second half through MVP of the tournament Emilee Cherry but knew that we must keep pressing and not take our foot off the throttle.
Then before we could blink the Kiwis scored two quick tries to narrow the gap to five points (17-12).
Knowing that we had to be the next to score, with only three minutes left we got a penalty 22 metres out from our line. We took the tap and I was sprung through a small gap in the Kiwi defensive line. I looked for support as I was one-on-one with the sweeper. Knowing that I'm not one of the fastest in the game I could hear Charlie (Caslick) calling and there she was in the right place at the right time to dash 50 metres to seal the win (24-12).
We were crowned Brazil Champions - a great way to finish off the tour before our journey home.
São Paulo was a magical place, the people are almost alwayshappy, it was a cultural experience and we had a very supportive crowd for a soccer (football) dominant country.
Finally, I would like to thank all of our supporters that continue to follow our journey no matter where we are in the world.
Your messages of support and well wishes never go unnoticed. And to the IRB for providing the live stream for all of the tournaments, our supporters are very appreciative of this service that you are providing.
Well that is all for now.
I hope all teams have returned home safely and until next time it's time to recharge the batteries and start the preparation for the next leg of the series in China!