Great Britain have qualified to the 2020 Olympics after England won the European qualifier in Kazan.
The first day was largely predictable, with the World Series five (England, France, Ireland, Russia and Spain) winning their games with ease. In the end only two games mattered, with Russia beating England comfortably, and Spain being too canny for Ireland.
So to day two, and on paper three straight-forward quarters and a humdinger - which is how it went for the first two games, but clearly no-one had sent Poland the script as they lead 14-12 until the final seconds, when Spain just managed to drive them back over their line, win the resulting scrum, and a place in the last four 17-14.
Breathless from that, England now took on Ireland, with the Irish grabbing an early lead. But a poor restart gave the advantage back to England, who soon drew level and started us use their tactic of a deep drop out to great effect, bottling up Ireland inside their 22, and taking advantage of the resulting errors. From 7-7 at halftime, England added two more tries with Ireland unable to escape from their end, giving England a 17-7 win and ending Ireland’s Olympic hopes.
And so to the semi-finals, and England ran the same tactics again. France managed to escape once to tie the scores early on, but England pulled ahead again and frustrated France, who were forced to score out wide at the death. The conversion was missed, setting up a desperate last minute where France looked like they might score, only to be turned over dramatically by England with 10 seconds to go. England were in the final.
For a while a similar shock in the second semi-final seemed possible as Spain, as the teams were locked up at 0-0 at the break. Only in the final quarter did Russia break the deadlock, only for Spain to strike back. In to the final minute, and Mikhaultsova seized the gap and was away to win the game 12-5.
Third place play-off, and elimination for the loser – and it was France who dominated the game, Spain only scoring in the final minute with the game long lost to the French.
Spain were out of the Olympics – and now face a massive funding gap for at least the next two years. A funding gap of €400,000 if Olympic funding over the next two years is withdrawn was being quoted to us from contacts in Spain.
And the final. England’s long restart tactic was back in evidence again, added to the extra confidence that had grown since the opening day. Russia were bottled up just as France and Ireland had been. Halftime deadlock was broken early in the second half by a try from Fisher, and two more tries from Uren and Matthews followed.
Against the odds, against all form guides, against first-day results, and against expectations, England had won. Great Britain will be at the 2020 Olympics.
Russia and France will have to wait the better part of a year until the repecharge (dates and venue still to be announced), though they should both qualify from that as – unlike the men’s competition – there will be two places on offer.
Pool A: France 54-0 Moldova; Poland 29-10 Italy; France 48-0 Italy; Poland 33-5 Moldova; France 31-5 Poland; Italy 38-0 Moldova
Pool B: England 59-0 Germany; Russia 29-0 Sweden; England 50-0 Sweden; Russia 55-0 Germany; Germany 5-29 Sweden; Russia 26-5 England
Pool C: Spain 35-7 Czechia; Ireland 48-0 Romania; Spain 35-0 Romania; Ireland 50-0 Czechia; Spain 19-5 Ireland; Romania 34-5 Czechia
Quarter-Final: France 55-0 Romania; Russia 44-0 Italy; Spain 17-14 Poland; England 17-7 Ireland
9th-12th Place Semi-Final: Sweden 12-0 Germany; Czechia 0-12 Moldova
5th-8th Place Semi Final: Romania 0-48 Ireland; Italy 7-12 Poland
Semi-Final: France 12-14 England; Russia 12-5 Spain
11th Place Match Germany 15-7 Czechia
9th Place Match: Sweden 27-7 Moldova
7th Place Match: Romania 14-29 Italy
5th Place Match: Ireland 33-5 Poland
3rd Place Match: France 17-5 Spain
Final: England 19-0 Russia