The online home of Women's Rugby

Ferns on verge of second title

Australia and New Zealand have dominated the second Women's Sevens World Series.

There is little between them, but New Zealand go into this week's final leg with a small but crucial advanage.

We preview the Amsterdam Sevens.

Its Amsterdam Sevens weekend again, with not only the 12 Women's Sevens World Series, but another 10 national and national development teams in action over the three days - starting on Friday.

Women's Sevens World Series (16th-17th May)

Pool A

New Zealand

New Zealand have reached the final in all four tournaments in the series to date and it's very hard indeed to see them failing to continue that record.

Reaching the final should also be enough for them to retain the title.

In the event of two teams tying for on tournament points, the decisive factors is points difference in all matches, and on that measure New Zealand start Amsterdam with a massive 145-point advantage over Australia.

A second sucessive title will not be undeserved. The Ferns always seem to have one more tactical gear than everyone else. After Australia appeared to have caught up with them in Brazil, New Zealand responded with an imperious performance to win in China.

For Amsterdam, coach Sean Horan will be without Honey Hireme (domestic reasons rather than injury), but to replace her,  welcome back 2013 NZ Player of the Year Kelly Brazier for the first time this season. Of the younger stars, Gayle Broughton is missing, but the conveyor belt of remarkable new talent sees a debut for Chelsea Alley, who has already impressed in national XVs colours.

Spain

Spain have already achieved their target for 2013/14 by qualifying for the 2014/15 core, but the leading European team at the Moscow World Cup are aiming to also finish the WSWS in a similar position. They begin in sixth place overall, six points behind both continental rivals Russia and England having lost to both on the final day in China. 

For coach Tomas Garcia last weekend's training camp brought a mixture of good and bad news.

He welcomed back Laura Esbri after a year away with a knee injury, as well as Maria Casado, who missed China, but will now be missing both Marta Cabane and the highly influential figure of Barbara Pla due to ankle injuries. Iera Etxebarría joins the squad for her first WSWS series.

Despite this Spain should be more than capable of reaching their fifth-succesive quarter-final and could go the extra step into final four. But to make that breakthrough they need to overcome a tendency to lose close games and in particular must learn to believe that they can beat England.

It remains a remarkable fact that Spain have never beaten any England team at sevens in any tournament, WSWS or otherwise, regardless of the strength of the opposition selection. If they are to go from top three in Europe to top three in the world it is a psychological barrier they must overcome. 

United States

Coach Ric Suggit faces the massive task of turning round the fortunes of the USA after failing to make the quarter-finals in both of the last two series, culminating with a worst-ever 11th in their last tournament. As a result they languish in seventh place in the table, only missing out on possible relegation concerns because Ireland's star players decided to concentrate in fifteens in World Cup year.

In an effort to arrest the decline Suggit makes five changes to the squad for Amsterdam, including two new caps, Hannah Lockwood and Hannah Lopez. With China debutants Alev Kelter and (recently married) Elana Meyers-Taylor also retaining their places the result is overall an inexperienced Eagles team that could shine or stutter.

However it is a risk worth taking as, with a place in the 2014/15 WSWS assured, there is no real pressure to succeed... yet. There is still time to experiment, though that time is running out. As Suggit said when the squad was announced “We know we will perform better this time around. We have to.” 

Ireland

Having won the Bowl title in China, Ireland at least travel this weekend with some sort of winning form behind them having picked up their first piece of silverware as a core team. 

This is a difficult pool though for a relatively inexperienced irish side, in a season where coach Jon Skurr has been forced to blood a raft of new players, some even new to the game of rugby itself. For the long term, this approach may reap benefits for the Irish 7s game, but in the short term it has seen them almost certainly lose their core status (they would have to win the tournament in Amsterdam to have any chance of keeping it), and regaining the place will require at least top five finish in the European Championship - which will be a massive challenge as the leading XVs players will still be missing. A shame after it was so hard fought for in last year’s World Cup, 

Pool B

Australia

Australia start in Amsterdam only two points behind New Zealand, but massively behind on points difference. Realistically their only hope for the title will be for New Zealand to lose in the quarter or semi finals, and - as the only team likely achieve that knock-out blow are Australia - this may make Tim Walsh's pool game selections interesting.

In truth, Australia have not quite matched the consistency of their trans-Tasman rivals, with four defeats overall in the series - two against Canada (including the crucial semi-final defeat in Atlanta), one against England, and the final against New Zealand in China - though their record against New Zealand overall shows a 2-1 advantage.

Ellia Green and Nikki Etheridge return, but three key players are still out with injury, including teenage sensation Tiana Penitani. However, Australia do have the leading individual points scorer Emilee Cherry, and 2010 XVs World Cup star Nicole Beck is again selected, looking to make her mark after a quiet return to the colours in China.

A great debut season for Walsh whatever the result this weekend. 

Russia

Sitting joint fourth in the table with England,  a top four finish will be Russia’s out and out aim in Amsterdam, though so too will putting a poor tournament in China behind them.

Beating Spain for 7th place there will not have been part of the Russian plan where ultimately they were knocked out of the Cup by a rapidly progressing Fijian team - and what a shame it is that we won’t see them again this weekend.

Russia have enough talent and experience by now to pressurise any nation and their clash with Australia (who they beat in Amstredam last year) should be a real highlight in this pool and they will be confident against the French and South Africans. 

With so few players - Russia has fewer registered adults than any of their rivals - and the size of the country spotting new talent can be a challenge, but the timing of the Amsterdam tournament is also good for Russia. Their outdoor season has just started and and all of the major women's teams met in the first round of their club sevens series last month, so the coaching staff will have seen the entire squad in action - and may have spotted new talent as well. 

France

France's aim is a core place for 2014/15 and Amsterdam is crucial preparation for the European Top 12 series and then, if all goes well, the core qualifier, which France have applied to host in September.

It is a commitment to sevens rugby that has come rather later to the FFR than for most of their competitors, but it is nonetheless a target they have the ability to achieve. Their commitment has even included reorganising season so that it now ends with the club sevens, instead of starting with it.

Only Lina Guerin is unavailable from the squad that reached the quarter-finals in China, which was achieved on the back of good performances against both Russia and Canada who they meet again here. They also beat South Africa, their third opponent, in the Hong Kong semi-finals. 

South Africa

Fresh from their victory in the Confederation of African tournament (CAR) in Kenya, South Africa travel to Amsterdam with some momentum behind them. They also competed recently in Hong Kong, so unlike some other non core teams, they have plenty of game time under their belts. 

In being paired with two of the strongest sides on the circuit though - Australia and Russia - they face a tough ask in their pool. 

Interestingly South Africa also warmed up for this tournament with a game against the national XV team and having always provided huge physicality in the short form of the game,  expect this style to continue this weekend.  There are lots of new faces in this squad but also captain Zenay Jordaan will provide huge quality and experience. 

Pool C

Canada

The only team even mathematically capable of stopping a southern hemisphere series win, in practice Canada look certain to finish third in the series overall. Right back on form now, it will be a podium position that will be fully deserved in a year that has seen them reach all four semi-finals to date, as well as the final in Atlanta.

It is very difficult to see them failing to finish in the top four in Amsterdam, especially with Ghislane Landry returning after missing out in China, though this is balanced by the absence of Ashley Stacey. One interesting addition to the squad is the presence of fifteens star Kayla Mack, who makes her first sevens appearence after impressing coach John Tait with her improved speed and fitness.

England

England coach Simon Middleton has set his side a target of making the final four in this final  outing of the season, and despite facing a tough clash with Canada, with the squad he has chosen that target is certainly within their mettle.

Heather Fisher and Marlie Packer will provide huge power in the tight exchanges while Claire Allan has also been recalled and made vice captain to add her real experience out wide. 

Having already secured their core status for next season, England can finish fourth overall - and as the leading European team - if they do well this weekend (they currently sit joined fourth with Russia) which given their priorities have been with the XV game this year, is no bad result at all - fourth place next year will give an automatic place in the Olympics. What will be more interesting is what England will do next season and which form the game is given the key focus. 

Brazil

Brazil will be closely watched with their new ranking of 10th is a mixed blessing.

They have always done well in South America against the other Latin countries but when playing against the big powers they have been found wanting. 

To make the quarters they have to win at least one game as well as being competitive in their other games. But they have never won against the Netherlands and, aside from the 12–12 draw against Canada in Dubai and two huge wins against Ireland, their results have been poor. After two years of playing at the top level they must start to deliver and show they deserve their place in WSWS.

Netherlands

The tag line being used to promote the tournament is "we are ready" - and the Dutch will have to be. This will be their third WSWS in 2013/14 and so far they have failed to reach any quarter-final. If the Dutch retain serious ambitions to regain their core place, and go on to Rio, they have to start to catch up with their major rivals. The Olympic qualification process means that only three (or at the absolute outside four) European teams will make it to Rio, and at present the Dutch are - at best - only the continent's fourth-best team.

Their failure to reach the last eight 12 months ago ultimately cost Gareth Gilbert his coaching position. In comparison new coach Chris Lane does at least start the 2014 tournament with all of his major players fully fit - including Lorraine Laros and Tessa Veldhuis whose absence last year was significant. The team will be familar to followers of the Dutch 2012/13 campaign (or even earlier) as all have previous experience of playing in the WSWS.

In practice the draw this year is also more favourable to Lane than the one Gilbert had. Netherlands have never lost to Brazil, and know the England team very well. They should make the last eight.

Women's Invitational Sevens (17th-18th May)

The second level tournament will also be woth following, especially as a guide to the upcoming European Championships.

National selections and development teams from Wales, Georgia, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, France, Brazil, Ireland and Netherlands will compete alongside 14 leading club selections from England, Scotland, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, Germany and Australia

For the first time this year Brazil are bringing their development team which should be closely watched and see who are the upcoming talent for the Olympics in 2016, as well as how much depth they have in their squad. 

Wales (playing as Wales Dragons) are in Amsterdam for the first time, showing a recognition that being from the Six Nations is no guarantee of success in European Sevens, This tournament will allow them to prepare with competitive games against teams or development squads from five of their opponents in June.

Four teams from Europe's A division, with ambitions to win promotion to the Top 12, will be in action.

Women's Invitational draw:

Group 1: France Development, Wales Dragon's, Saxons RFC (England) and Dumbusters (Scotland)

Group 2: Brazil Development, Georgia, Loraine (France) and Dukkies (Netherlands)

Group 3: West Coast Vikings (Sweden), Blackrock College (Ireland), Poland and Dutchband's Paarse Rebellen (Netherlands)

Group 4: Switzeland, Germany, Orbital Dutch Lions (Netherlands) and URC (Netherlands)

Group 5: Susies (Netherlands), AAC Amsterdam (Netherlands), Norwegian Vikingettes (Norway) and Green Lightning (Ireland)

Group 6: Netherlands Development, France Universitaire, Tribe Sevens (Australia) and Neuenheim (Germany)