They have been bottom of the World Rankings since the rankings were first published - but this weekend the Czechs are one step from European Trophy glory.
It took 12 test matches and 14 years but last November Czechia achieved their first ever test match win with a dramatic 10-5 win against Switzerland in Yverdon – and that win means that this weekend the determined and indefatigable players from women’s test rugby’s central European outpost have a chance to lift the European Trophy, the continent’s second level test tournament.
A Czech team first played test rugby back in 2004 when they took on Austria in Vienna in a game largely unrecognised by the unions of both countries, women’s rugby not featuring on their radar at the time. Those first two test matches were both drawn, and there was a long gap until 2013 before they returned to international fifteens – this time with official backing.
Their position at the foot of the World Rankings has always seem rather unfair. Apart from a hammering from Spain in the 2016 European Championship, the Czechs have given a good account of themselves over the past six years against Switzerland, Belgium, Russia and Germany – the creation of the Konektor Cup for their games against Switzerland was a Czech initiative, demonstrating an enthusiasm for the longer form of the game that was lacking in much of central Europe, especially when sevens came along.
Their opponents on Saturday will Finland. This will be the first time the teams have met, but that is not for the want of trying, travel and accomdation costs having prevented the game taking place until now. However, a competitive tournament sanctioned by Rugby Europe opens purse strings.
One reason for the enthusiasm for a meeting is that the two teams are, on paper, very well matched. Finland’s six places higher in the World Rankings are entirely due to two wins against Luxembourg and Norway over a decade ago (both – bizarrely – currently ranked above Finland in the World Rankings!). Since then the Finns have – like the Czechs – put in some creditably performances against Russia, Switzerland and Sweden without success, suggesting that their ranking is also far lower than is perhaps deserved.
Finland put in a good performance against the Swiss in Helsinki to open the tournament, but eventually lost 20-5 – a scoreline that perhaps fails to show how close the game was, the Swiss finding the Finnish outside centre Anna Soiluva a particular handful.
Both teams are likely to include players from their sevens squads, where both have had some success, though the Finns perhaps have the advantage in that form having recently played at Grand Prix level.
It should prove to be a fascinating and exciting game between teams who really should be given a chance to play more often. The Finns may have the advantage up front, but the Czechs perhaps have more speed - and home advantage as well. It is certainly the weekend’s hardest game to pick. Play begins at 11am CET at the Markéta stadium in Prague and should be streamed on the Rugby Europe website.