Belgium will join the High Table of European Women’s Sevens next season, after a dominant performance in Prague. They will be joined by Sweden who they beat 24-0 in the final.
It has been a good year for Belgium’s women’s rugby teams. Their fifteens side was unbeaten, and their sevens team – after reaching the semi-finals in Amsterdam, where they lost only narrowly to Top 12 team Germany – will have arrived in Prague for FIRA’s “A” Division Championship full of confidence.
They certainly played that way. While not faultless in defence, their reaction to conceding a try was invariably to score one in return almost immediately. They looked a level above their opponents, rattling up 166 points in their five Pool B games, and got better throughout the tournament - in their three Sunday games (final pool match, semi-final and final) Belgium scored 101 points, and conceded none.
The only team that remotely troubled them were the hosts, the Czech Republic – who had a dream tournament. Although 17-0 down at half-time, the Czechs dared to pull two tries back before Belgium put them in their place with a fourth score of their own.
This never-say-die attitude typified the host’s performance. Although the Czechs have reached A Division and Emerging Nations finals in the past, a disappointing performance last year meant that they had only held onto their place in the second level of European Sevens by the narrowest of margins, while their warm-up in Amsterdam had seen them lose to all of their likely rivals. However, with home crowd support they put right their defeat to Switzerland last month in their opening game, before dismissing Denmark and Hungary with some ease. Then a hard-fought and dramatic 7-7 draw with the much-fancied Moldovans on Sunday morning was good enough to see them into the semi-finals.
In Pool A the team of the day on Saturday were another unfancied team – Poland. Although a respected team, with no previous tournament play this year they were not expected to be amongst the front runners. However, they beat Romania, Georgia, Austria and then Croatia to lead the pool and guarantee themselves a semi-final place at the end of the first day – their best performance since 2006.
Sweden had been expected to win Pool A but, after regulation wins over Austria and Croatia, they were stunned by a 19-0 defeat to Georgia which threw the pool wide open, and meant that Sweden had to win their Sunday morning game with unbeaten Poland if they were to progress. With an evening to recover and reflect, the Swedes put in the performance they needed, winning 19-0 and ensuring they would join Poland in the final four.
The win also ensured that Sweden would top the group, thus – crucially – avoiding a semi-final against Belgium. However, they still needed to get past the Czechs – and a great battle it was, with the difference between the teams resting on Sweden’s ability to convert their tries, as they won 14-10 – a win which brought with it the extra prize of winning their place back in next year’s Top 12.
While the evening break had aided Sweden, it seems to have done the opposite for Poland who failed to score a single point on Sunday, losing the semi-final with Belgium 36-0 followed by the third-place play-off with the Czechs 15-0.
And so to the final, and Belgian victory.
Elsewhere Moldova took the plate against Switzerland, who had recovered well from an awful start to the tournament where - at one point - they position in “A” Division had seemed threatened, while Croatia - who had been within touching distance of a Cup semi-final place on Saturday evening - will have been disappointed to eventually finished only eighth behind Romania. Sweden’s conquerors Georgia eventually only took the Bowl after a heavy defeat to Romania on Sunday morning dropped them into the bottom four, beating Denmark in the Bowl Final. Finally Austria and Hungary filled the bottom two places, and as a result will both be relegated.