There’s more to women’s test rugby than the World Cup! The Czech Republic and Switzerland, Europe’s newest two test teams, compete this weekend for a place in October’s European Nations Trophy.
As its World Cup year Rugby Europe (the new name of FIRA-AER) are offering their usual chance of glory for the next level of European test rugby. This year the tournament will be hosted in October by Belgium, with the Netherlands and Russia joining the hosts – but the identity of the fourth team will be decided by a unique qualification game in Prague on Sunday.
This – the first ever European Championship qualifier – will feature Czech Republic and Switzerland. The Swiss played their first test in 2011, after a careful development programme that began a couple of years earlier, and have won four of their five tests to date, including a win against Belgium in 2011 and two wins against the Czech Republic last year. Fifteens is also more their “natural” game, as most women’s rugby at club level has traditionally been played in that format.
Switzerland will therefore start as overwhelming favourites – but the Czech Republic have been putting a lot of effort into closing the gap. Earlier in the year their fifteens team played University of Glasgow and Dutch team RC Tilburg, where the coaching staff were able to test new players try out various tactical and strategic ideas – as well as pick up some morale-boosting wins, most notably the 87-0 thrashing dealt out to the Scottish student team.
That visit by the Glasgow students showed that, with ball in hand, the Czechs can certainly be a threat, something that they have gained from their sevens experience. However, as many other countries have found before, switching between formats is not easy and their 15s preparations may have impacted on their sevens performance as they slipped from 3rd to 7th in the Division A tournament in Bergen at the start of the month - though the Swiss had a even worse weekend, falling from 6th to 9th.
Some good news for the team is the return of Kamila Rousová, scrum half and experienced captain, who is back after missing much of the season through injury. She may not be quite 100% yet, but her presence will provide a significant psychological lift for the team. Barbora Bendová at flyhalf will also be crucial to any success, and reports suggest that her kicking is on form.
A third player to watch is flanker Věra Samková, who the coaching team report is in very good shape, despite what has been an unusually the long season - in fact Martin Charvát tells us that “the more she plays the better she is”. On the other hand, a number of experienced players are still injured – so there will be six new caps in the team for Prague.
However, as the Czech Republic are relatively new to test rugby, the fact that a player is playing in their first test does not denote necessarily inexperience. Hana Schlangerová, for example, played XVs in Germany during her studies, played in unofficial "test" against a German Select XV last year, and was the national player of the year. She is "uncapped" only because she missed last year's tests due to the birth of her son, before returning to play again this spring.
Even so, and despite home advantage, it’s still going to be an uphill battle for the Czechs – a fact that they acknowledge. Rousová was interviewed after the win in Glasgow and was very honest about where their strengths and weaknesses lie – “Despite losing to Switzerland in Nyon last year (42-0), there were some positives. In some areas of the game we were the better team, but we need to work on our fitness. Our defence was also a problem, as were the rucks” – both areas that they will have been working hard.
1 Petra Morávková, RK Petrovice; 2 Dominika Havelková, RC Přelouč; 3 Karolina Filsáková, RC Havířov; 4 Hana Schlangerová, RC Sparta**; 5 Lucie Svobodová, RK Petrovice*; 6 Věra Samková, RC Sparta*; 7 Hanka Erika Radochová, RK Petrovice; 8 Kateřina Vrbacká, RC Vyškov*; 9 Kamila Rousová, captain, RC Dragon Brno; 10 Barbora Bendová, RK Petrovice*; 11 Petra Morávková, RC Sparta**; 12 Alexandra Zítková, RC Dragon Brno*; 13 Pavlína Čuprová, RC Vyškov*; 14 Adriana Krütznerová, RK Petrovice*; 15 Šárka Šimánková, RC Sparta Praha*
16 Květa Kottková, RC Slavia; 17 Zuzana Skokanová, RC Vyškov; 18 Aneta Šmejdová, RC Sparta**; 19 Natálie Malinovská, RC Plzeň**; 20 Barbora Světlíková, RC Slavia**; 21 Kateřina Nováková, RC Plzeň* **; 22 Kristýna Volfová, RK Petrovice; 23 Zuzana Steppanová, RC Slavia**
*7s player; **uncapped player;
From: Isabella Bauer - Gc Zurich; Rahel Bosshardt - Gc Zurich; Anuschka Buob - Gc Zurich; Carole Casparis - Rc Luzern; Katja Dick - Gc Zurich; Angela Diener - Rc Luzern; Esther Duss - Rc Luzern; Rebecca Ellis - Cmsg (Cern); Selina Fux - Rc Bern; Carole Gachet - Rc Bern; Anita Gander - Gc Zurich; Simone Haymoz - Gc Zurich; Patricia Mancini - Rc Bern; Judith Martinot-Prébandier - Gc Zurich; Lauriane Mbalikada - Rc Nyon; Sarah Mcnamara - Rc Luzern; Cynthias Munstermann - Rc Luzern; Carolin Reischauer - Gc Zurich; Léonie Robert - Rc Bern; Holly Shearer - Rc Konstanz; Lea Strohm - Gc Zurich; Henriette Thole - Rc Basel; Fabienne Ullmann - Rc Bern
Coach: Veronika Muehlhofer; Forwards Coach: Vincent Prébandier; Backs Coach: John Douglas; Manager: Carolin Reischauer; Physio: Ingris Suter; Physio: Michele Hürlimann