A fairly clear divide has opened up in the Women's Sevens World Series between the top seven or eight teams, who are more than capable of beating each other on the day, and the rest. We look at the pools for Langford, and back at the performances in Atlanta. Squads will be added as they are announced.
Australia (Winners in Atlanta, 1st in the series)
Australia could wrap up the series in Langford with a round to go. Three wins from three, and having made it through the weekend without serious injury, it would be a brave person who bet against them making four from four.
Shocked by England in the opening game – a tough opener when new players and returnees were finding their feet – Australia barely put a foot wrong thereafter. Only seriously troubled from their second game on by Canada in the semi-finals, Australia are a class act.
Tim Walsh was, unsurprisingly, very positive: "In Sao Paulo we played an intelligent game to win in the wet whereas here in Atlanta we had to do it in a different way. I'm so proud of the team and with our experienced players who played a lot of minutes. They had to find ways to adapt their game, particularly today, with the amount of time they were on the pitch.”
That said, he is taking nothing for granted: "The opposition is improving and it's only getting harder to win these tournaments. I thought England put us to the sword yesterday and are looking like the team they have threatened to be for a while. They were better than us and it's up to us to find ways to get better. There are so many areas that we can still improve on which makes this journey so exciting."
Emma Tonegato was deservedly player of the tournament with an amazing five tries against Colombia - "Emma was absolutely world class in this tournament,” said Walsh. “She was packing in scrums, she was out on the wing. She demonstrated an array of skills and is a valued member of this squad. Emma fits in perfectly with the team ethos we have and to watch her flourish as a person and as a Rugby Sevens player has been so rewarding."
The team selected for Langford sees three of the leading players from Atlanta rested. Charlottle Caslick, Alicia Quirk and Emma Tonegato will miss the tournament in order to give debuts to Shenae Cieksiolka, Demi Hayes and Georgina Friedrichs. Nicole Beck also returns to the squad for the injured Evania Pelite who is unavailable after injuring her elbow in Atlanta.
Walsh said naming three debutants for Langford will help build further depth in the squad. "I'm excited to see how the three debutants [Ciesiolka, Hayes and Friedrichs] face up to the challenge of playing against the best Women's Sevens players in the world,” he said. "I see this tournament as a huge opportunity for each of them to prove to me they have what it takes not only physically but also mentally. The Sevens World Series is unforgiving and no-one will be doing us any favours.
"Demi is a fine athletic forward and Georgie is a workhorse who is as brave as anyone I've seen on a rugby field. Everyone saw the pace Shenae has in her locker when we took on Ireland at the Sydney 7s in February - it's an exciting mix."
Australia squad: 1. Shannon Parry; 2. Brooke Walker; 3. Nicole Beck; 4. Tiana Penitani ; 5. Dominique du Toit; 6. Demi Hayes; 7. Georgina Friedrichs; 8. Chloe Dalton; 9. Amy Turner; 10. Shenae Ciesiolka; 11. Emilee Cherry; 12. Mahalia Murphy
Russia (6th in Atlanta and the series)
Russia will make three changes for Langford, having brought 15 to North America. The key to their fate next weekend maybe who those three changes are.
In Atlanta Russia showed the risk and downside of giving the squad game-time as the newly revived near-first choice team took a while to find their spark again. A poor opening day gave them just one win from three, and that a very close 10-7 win against Ireland. Much of the damage was self-inflicted, with poor decision making and unforced handling errors.
However, by Day 2 they were back on form, giving England a real scare in a quarter-final that they could have won before comprehensively reversing their first day defeat to the French. They lost the plate final to the USA, but again could have won
Pavel is likely to continue to experiment a little in Langford as Olympic qualification remains Russia’s number one priority, and he needs to sort out exactly who his top 12 for Dublin will be – and can only do that by giving the borderline players on-field experience. So, it’s as you were a week ago, Russia should make the quarters, but it’s not a given. They key game will be against France in round two.
France (7th in Atlanta, 5th in the series)
As Russia, Daniel Courtiex brought fifteen players with him and so will make at least three changes for Langford. Curiously this chopping and changing of personnel has seemed to affect France rather less than Russia, so expect France to still be in the running.
Seventh place was a disappointing outcome to a weekend that began so well for France, with two wins and defeat to Canada in the third game by the odd try in five. Unfortunately, that gave them a quarter with New Zealand (instead of the USA, who they might have expected given the draw) and moreover a group of Ferns determined to put right after a surprise loss the previous evening. The loss to Russia in the plate semi-finals just left a relatively straightforward win against an under-par Fiji in the 7th place playoff.
As we said above, the crucial game will be their second against Russia with the added disadvantage that France will have opened against Australia – so the French will probably be coming back from a loss. Even so it’s hard to see them not making the main draw on Day 2.
The team selected for Langford sees Elodie Guiglion, Rose Thomas and Pauline Biscarat rested with Shannon Izar et Jessy Trémoulière and Laurianne Lissar coming in - the latter a lttle unplanned following injury to Jennifer Troncy. Overall this is therefore a slightly stronger side due to the inclusion of Izar, especially if she can repeat her performance in Sao Paulo.
France squad: Laürelin Fourcade (Bordeaux, FFR); Camille Grassineau (Bordeaux, FFR); Lina Guerin (Marcoussis, FFR); Clémence Gueucier (Bobigny, FFR); Fanny Horta (FFR); Shannon Izar (Lille MRCV, FFR); Caroline Ladagnous (Bobigny, FFR); Jade Le Pesq (Rennes, FFR); Laurianne Lissar (Bayonne, FFR); Marjorie Mayans (Blagnac St-Orens, FFR); Jessy Tremouliere (Romagnat FFR); Chloé Pelle (Lille MRCV, FFR); ;
Brazil (Did not play in Atlanta, 11th in the series)
Brazil are back for what is likely to be their last hurrah in the World Series. They will feature in the promotion/relegation tournament after the Olympics, but in a new world of reduced funding after Rio the future will be far tougher for Brazil than it has been up until now.
For Langford the recently re-crowned South American champions look inevitably headed for the Bowl, unless they can perhaps catch Russia cold in the opening round. That said, it is a piece of silverware that they stand a very good chance of winning as they are quite capable of beating all of their likely opponents.
New Zealand (2nd in Atlanta, and the series)
It is a mark of a truly great team that they can suffer a run of injuries and look off-form but still end up in the final. Such was New Zealand in Atlanta, and indeed in the whole series to date.
The only real difference between the Ferns of now and a year ago is that now they appear human, in that they occasionally lose the odd match – but despite that they are always in the running and a podium finish in Rio seems inevitable, even if the colour may be less certain now.
What is certain is that luck was not on their side in Atlanta. Day one saw them lose a quarter of their squad with injury, yet still they still beat an in-form French and English teams fairly comfortably before just running out of steam against the rampant Green and Gold. “We only had nine players available today so had to dig deep,” said coach Sean Horan afterwards. “We had two good wins over France and England but just allowed Australia to open up a 19-0 lead. There were seven girls out of the 14 playing in their first final today. Then three new caps playing their first ever international tournament. They played a lot of game time, so the experience from this weekend will be invaluable.”
Langford gives the Ferns a chance to put right early on the loss to the USA sustained at the end of the opening day in Atlanta – and lightning tends to not strike twice with this team (unless the opponents are from over the Tasman). Horan is confident that their biggest rivals are not unbeatable: “England stopped Australia on day one so they are not untouchable. We learnt a lot tonight for a young team. I’m stoked with the heart the team showed. We handed them 19 points on a plate but were still about a minute away from winning. We have to be smarter and more settled and take our opportunities when they come.” Expect them to be in the shake-up for honours on Sunday.
United States (5th in Atlanta, 7th in the series)
A good performance from the USA in Atlanta was always going to be given. Unlike most teams who struggle with “home advantage”, for the Eagles it really is an advantage. Topping their pool on Day One, thanks to a memorable win over New Zealand to send their fans home of a high, meant that Day Two was almost an anti-climax, especially after a quarter-final loss to Australia (ironically, in terms of the draw, they would have been better off losing to the Ferns).
Even so five wins from six and the plate trophy was a very good result, taking the States on again from the debacle of Dubai. On this form they could slip into the top half of the series table after Langford and be competing for a top four position come Clermont.
Because it’s not just that they won the plate, but also the way they won it – the win was never seriously in doubt. They were imperious against Fiji, and dominant against Russia. Quietly, and despite the well-publicised off-field problems, the USA seem to be timing a run to the line in Rio almost perfectly.
They will make the quarters in Langford, of that the can be little doubt, and there should come up against England or Canada – teams they will now be confident they can beat, because this is now a confident team. As new coach Richie Walker said “The biggest takeaway I thought was, after we played Australia and lost, the girls didn’t dip or bow their heads, and they weren’t negative. They know we made some mistakes and needed to eliminate those mistakes, and were able to stay positive and calm in the locker room. When you lose a game you never know how you can go, so it was really rewarding for me, and rewarding for the girls.”
Fiji (8th in Atlanta, and in the series)
Atlanta was an experience that Chris Cracknell and his team will be desperate to put behind them. Probably their worst performance since joining the World Series, they only beat Colombia and, apart from a few flourishes against England, were never at the races. After squeaking into the quarters they failed to score a single point on day two while conceding 95. Frankly so poor were they that, but for their big first round win against the Colombians, it’s unlikely that Fiji would have finished better than 11th.
Langford gives them a chance to forget all that and start again, with no significant damage done other than perhaps to their confidence. Unfortunately, they will be opening against New Zealand, which is not perhaps a team Cracknell might have chosen – though that said Fiji have beaten the Ferns (albeit not in the World Series). The key is whether the can keep it together through two likely opening losses until they meet Spain at the end of the opening day. If they can then the quarters open up again and anything is possible, if they cannot then Cracknell has a lot of work ahead of him.
Spain (11th in Atlanta, 10th in the series)
Sevens is a cruel game. Spain went from coming within an ace of beating New Zealand on Day One to finding themselves 7-5 behind to Colombia on Day Two, before turning it round to take 11th place 24-12. The question was how?
The answer was, having given their all against the Ferns, they then faced Japan at the end of Day One with a quarter-final place lined up for them… if they could win. And winning they were after five minutes, but Japanese tries either side if half-time was enough to put both teams into the bowl. There they faced Ireland, who had yet to win a game in the World Series since their promotion, and again Spain led, but lost. And so to Colombia.
One thing in Spain’s favour for Langford is that they are quite capable of beating Fiji, especially if it is the Fiji from Atlanta, and so take third in the pool. That said Spain often finish third in their pool, but also almost invariably miss out on the quarters when they do. At times they really do seem to be the Series’ unluckiest team. Hopefully that will change in Langford.
England (3rd in Atlanta, 4th in the series)
Atlanta was without doubt the best performance by England this year, which is to say – with the ever rising standards – almost certainly their best performance ever. Beating the “unbeatable” Australians in their opening game lifted the squad to new heights as the swept into semi-finals only to crash into a New Zealand team playing with more determination than we’ve seen all season. The England defence, so good against Australia, could not hold back the Ferns, and so a place in the final was frustratingly missed – though the compensation was a brilliant display against Canada to take third place, for the second time this series.
The difference was Emily Scarratt, the captain who inspired her team by the quality of everything she did in Atlanta. She set them the target of playing their final game as if it were for an Olympic bronze medal, and they all responded. “It’s an awesome finish for us,” she said afterwards, “We had a really good start yesterday and it was important that we backed it up today coming off the back of Sao Paulo where we didn’t play that well and didn’t get the results because of it. It was a fair result and we’re chuffed to have come third.”
Coach Simon Middleton added: “It was a great squad effort with a lot of emphasis on that last game with Canada likely to be in our Olympic pool. They are fantastic side who will take advantage if you’re not on form and we played with great energy, composure and skill.”
Can they do it again in Langford? There is every reason to believe that the might. Ireland and Japan will hold few concerns, and if Canada freeze again in front of their home crowd as they did last year the draw will open up very nicely indeed with just a chance to put that semi-final loss against the Ferns right. Certainly anything other than another top three finish will count as a backward step.
Canada (4th in Atlanta, 3rd in the series)
One major blot in Canada’s otherwise immaculate copybook in recent years was Langford last year when the pressure of the home crowd seemed to get to the team. They will be determined not to do that again. If they play like did in Atlanta they need have no worries.
Because on Day One at least they were sublime, superb, racing to win their pool before walloping Fiji in the last eight. Then they met Australia in the game of the tournament, even the series so far. And, frankly, it was a game they lost as much as Australia won with some poor handling and odd Keystone Kops moment in the first half that put them behind at the break. Yes, despite that, the deficit was only 14-7 – and Canada were soon back on level terms in the second half. Australia pulled ahead again, but Canada seemed certain to wipe that out before a match-winning tackle changed the destination of the game. Australia won 26-14, but it was closer than that. Much closer. After the effort of that game maybe the loss to England in the third place was not a great surprise – and the draw gives them a chance to put that right early on.
But in the end next weekend really depends on how Canada respond to the friends and family in the stands. If it can lift them they could go all the way, if it adds to the pressure title hopes could end early on Day Two.
Ireland (9th in Atlanta, 12th in the series)
Ireland recorded their first WSWS win in Atlanta since the opening game in Dubai– and then followed that with another to come home with their first sevens silverware since returning to the Series. More importantly it lifted them into the third pool of seeds, and for the first time a winnable pool game and a possible opening into the quarter-finals.
In Atlanta predictably Day One was tough, but the Irish held on well and could have even surprised Russia in the final game. Day two saw the back-to-back wins over Spain and Japan, their best performance this season.
With those wins behind them, Ireland will be confident for Langford, in effect the apprenticeship is over. England and Canada will be difficult opening games, but if Ireland can stay in those games a visit to the final eight is possible.
Japan (10th in Atlanta, and the series)
As with Ireland, Japan will look on the draw for Langford as an opportunity as they will also believe that they can beat Ireland, and then maybe progress.
After two tough losses to New Zealand and the USA in Atlanta, Japan beat an apparently in-form Spanish team on the opening day. It was not a win good enough to avoid the bowl, but nonetheless it shows that the Japanese cannot be taken for granted. The win did give them a bowl match-up with Colombia, and then a third bowl final.
The repeat of the bowl final with Ireland in Langford will be the crucial game for the Japanese to build towards. However, you feel that Ireland are now on a rise after Atlanta, and a fixture that would have seen Japan favourites a week ago will now have them as underdogs. Another visit to the bowl seems inevitable.
Colombia (12th in Atlanta)
This was Colombia’s only taste of the top level before the Olympics, and given their lack of experience of the game outside South America they performed very well.
120 points conceded on day one against teams the like of which they have never seen before was not a surprise, but once into the Bowl the Colombians were very competitive, pushing both Japan and Spain and showing that they will not be just making up the numbers in Rio.
Overall it was a better performance than Argentina, the only other South American team to play in the WSWS managed (other than Brazil) in 2013, and it’s a huge pity that this will be their only significant outing before the Games as, based on this performance, they could finish there with a win or two.
Pool A: Australia 7–21 England; Fiji 41–7 Colombia; Australia 34–0 Colombia; Fiji 7–28 England; Australia 22–5 Fiji; England 45–0 Colombia
Pool B: Canada 26–5 Russia; France 22–0 Ireland; Canada 29–5 Ireland; France 22–7 Russia; Canada 17–12 France; Russia 10–7 Ireland
Pool C: New Zealand 38–5 Japan; United States 24–0 Spain; New Zealand 10–5 Spain; United States 33–12 Japan; New Zealand 5–12 United States19:48; Japan 15–7 Spain
Semi-finals: Japan 19-7 Colombia, Ireland 17-5 Spain
11th place: Spain 24-12 Colombia
Final: Ireland 26-15 Japan
Semi-finals: Russia 24-12 France; USA 38-0 Fiji
7th place: France 28-0 Fiji
Final: USA 19-7 Russia
Quarter-finals: England 17-12 Russia, Canada 29-0 Fiji, Australia 22-5 United States, New Zealand 24-7 France
Semi-finals: New Zealand 24-19 England, Australia 26-14 Canada
3rd place: England 26-14 Canada
Final: Australia 24-19 New Zealand