We try to include countries big and small in Scrumqueens, and its a while since we featured Austria. Women's rugby has been well established there for well over a decade, - the Austrian union was for many years the hub of development programmes across central and eastern Europe. But in recent years management changes saw a significant decline in the game, on and off the field. But 2016 has been a time of renewal, with the hope that Austria will soon be back at the heart of the central European game. Martin Kühr, recently appointed as the Union's PR officer, brings us up to date.
The Austrian women ́s 7s team has been around a lot longer than you would think! They had their first international appearance in 2005 and quickly developed a strong side making their way up to the A group of the European Championship, at their height they ranked 15th in Europe and were able to maintain their position in the A group for quite some time. It was only after several key players retired and their long-term coach quit that a hole was left in the organization and the team struggled, ultimately falling in the rankings.
In March 2016, Eva Gerstl, a former player and captain of the women’s national team, took over as head coach. Together with manager Laura Wunsch, a former player herself, their job was to re-build the once strong team with motivated girls who shared the same team values and goals. To start they organized nation-wide open try outs for anyone wanting to give it a go and showed a passion to play for their country. 25 players from all over Austria took part and over the course of a few weeks 12 ladies from four different clubs were chosen to represent Austria on the pitch. In years past, the Austria’s national team consisted of primarily players from only one club and the fact that the current national team consists of four clubs, with others aspiring to work hard and join, is a source of great pride for the Austrian league, showing development and growth in only a few short years since the fall in ranking.
The Austrian women’s 7s national team only had 4 months to prepare for the European Championship (Rugby Europe Sevens Women’s Conference) starting from scratch. The hard work paid off, the ladies were able to end 9th out of the 16 teams participating, only missing out at a shot to be in the top 8 by a few points. Ranking 9th at the Euros vastly exceeded the expectations of the team staff, who viewed last year as a re-building year with the main goal being to build a foundation for the future. Last year’s performance only added fuel to the fire for coach Eva Gerstl and her team, motivating them to set their sights even higher: building momentum and eventually returning to the next higher level, the Rugby Europe Sevens Women’s Trophy.
The re-structuring of the Austrian Women’s Sevens Series in the last year has also helped build up the national team, because of course, without potential on the club level, there is no possibility for potential on the international level. On average, the Austrian women’s league consists of 8 teams, with others in development, which is big for a league that consisted of only 2-3 teams around 10 years ago! The game of Rugby in Austria is slowly but steadily growing and this growth is paramount for the success of the national team. It ́s coordination is – the same as in the national team – purely in the hands of women.
Angelika Grabher and Kathi Kueß were put in charge as of Autumn 2016, coordinating and structuring the league, which is no easy task given the ample number of men’s games spanning 3 Austrian men’s divisions, a shortage of referees, and a lack of sponsors willing to lend support. Angelika Grabher and Kathi Kueß have also added to the countries development by inviting teams from surrounding nations (i.e. Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary and Germany) to participate in the Austrian Women’s Sevens Series enriching the league and adding to the competition.
The two league coordinators and the two national team staff members are all former or active players and have known each other for several years which means they not only know the women ́s game in Austria, but they are able to communicate and cooperate extremely well with one another, ensuring the further development.