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Women’s rugby catch-up

The Women’s Six Nations has dominated the news in recent weeks, so it's time for a quick catch-up of other news from around the world…

Welsh coach Rhys Edwards presents the Welsh regional championshop trophy to Scarlets captain Jodie Evans

European Trophy preparations

Although there is no announcement yet about the dates for the European Trophy (the winner of which will playoff against Scotland for a place in the World Cup), we do know that the tournament will be in Spain.

  • Belgium played – and comfortably defeated - Scotland U20s on Sunday.
  • Switzerland and Czech Republic take on` a touring team from 2015 US Ivy League champions Brown University next week. They play in Switzerland on 28th March (1pm kick-off, Kunstrasen Schönenbüehl, Wilbrunnenstrasse 24, Unterägeri) and the Czech Team on the 30th (4pm, Markéta Stadium, U Vojtěšky 11, Praha 6 – refereed by Poland’s Aneta Nejm)
  • Spain are holding a camp for their XVs team this week in Valladolid, bringing together the core of the team that played Hong Kong and Scotland at the end of last year, but with several new players - Marina Galan and Laura Delgado (Sanse), Maria Losada (INEF), Turenne Lorie (ARCT), and Raquel Garcia (Stiges). Laura Esbri (INEF) also returns to action after injury, as does Elsa Porto (ARCT).

Other international news

  • Wales will host the 7th World University Rugby Sevens Championship in Swansea from 6th-9th July. 12 women’s teams are expected to take part in a tournament that has been won three times by current holders Canada, who beat France in the 2014 final. Great Britain were winners in 2012.
  • Australia and New Zealand met in a six-game series at Knox in Victoria on 12/13 March. The series began with a full-strength game – played as if it were a World Series quarter-final – which Australia won. In the other five game the two squads experimented, with development players being given a chance for match experience.  Over the two days New Zealand shaved the series 4-2 but Australian coach Tim Walsh said the results were irrelevant. “We wanted to prepare ourselves for the Olympics, with the women’s world series going from six (legs) to five this year, even six isn’t really a whole lot (of playing opportunity),” he said. “With a professional program getting better, where do you get that level of competition but there’s also feeling that to prepare for the Olympics. We put a strategy in place to fill that hole and get us prepared over three days. With New Zealand being across the ditch and having the same thought patterns, it worked out really well.”
  • Sweden’s U18 team finished third in the Rosslyn Park 7s, losing to eventual winners Hartpury College in the semi-finals.
  • Spain completed a two-day training camp in Portugal last week with five wins in six games. On Thursday they won their games by 25-0, 33-0, 26-10 and 24-7, while in Friday (in very different conditions – ie. pouring rain) they lost 17-12 before winning the final game 19-0.
  • Canada held a 33-player training camp last week in Shawnigan Lake School to kick off their 2016 XVs preparations, leading up to next year’s World Cup. 79 players are currently in a “fluid long-list”, with some of the players appearing at Shawnigan and others at a camp at the University of Guelph next month. This will be whittled down to a squad of 40 for a training camp back at Shawnigan in September from which a team will be selected to fly to Europe in November to play Ireland on the 19th and England the 23rd, the latter game taking place at Twickenham.
  • The United States have also revealed their player pool for their XVs squad. 49 names were announced in February as part of a new National Team Pathway, launched after the last World Cup, and includes 16 age-grade players, who have all been selected on merit. “Each player has been seen in elite competition, with the winter National All-Star Competition being the most powerful selection vehicle,” said coach Pete Steinberg. The winter NASC brought together the best senior, college, and under-20 players in the country to compete in a week-long competition. The structure allows for players who play well to be promoted to the level above.

    Only seven players in the pool played in France in 2014, but the pool does include nine players who debuted in the Super Series last summer and 21 players overall with international experience. The squad will be fluid, with players moving in and out based on performance.
  • Hong Kong. The draw for the Hong Kong Sevens has been announced. Ten teams will take on 7th/8th April. Pool A will include France, South Africa, Kazakhstan, China and Kenya and Pool B will consist of Japan, Hong Kong, Argentina, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
  • Russia's Alena Mikhaltsova (formerly Bogacheva) was tested positive for Meldonium at the beginning of March, and issued the following statement: "I would like to give an official comment that the last time I took Meldonium in September. Meldonium was recommended me by the club doctor for a terapeutic use because of large decrease of efficiency, overload and physical fatigue. Meldonium was recommended for faster recovery. After WADA official announcement 30.09.2015 about including Meldonium in the WADA Prohibited List from the 1st of January 2016, I immediately stopped taking Meldonium. I was sure and I'm sure now that during this time Meldonium should left the system and that is why the results of the sample "А" are raise doubts over. So I sent WADA a request for extended sample "A". After receiving and reviewing the results, we will make a decision about sample "B"." The results of the "B" sample have yet to be announced.
  • Hong Kong (2). Anna Richards, a former New Zealand international and now Hong Kong coach, has also negotiated with the New Zealand Rugby Union to organise a group of New Zealand Sevens development players who the HKRU are flying up to Hong Kong, where they will mix with top local players in a Barbarians format, for a two-day training camp at the Hong Kong Sports Institute on March 19 and 20. Last week the HKRU Scorpions (mainly national team players) dispatched Princeton A, 58-17 and then the development HKRU Vipers ran out 37-0 visitors over Princeton B. Scorpions fly-half Rose Fong, who also added four conversions, was singled out by both Hong Kong XVs coach Jo Hull and Princeton coach Chris Ryan, also the USA Women’s Sevens assistant coach, for her performance. “Their fly-half is pretty special. They played the whole first half in our end and I thought she could have kicked a bit more in the second to do it again, but they probably wanted to run,” said Ryan. Hong Kong coach Jo Hull was keenly observing the action as the Princeton matches will help determine the composition of Hong Kong’s training squad for the Asia Rugby Championship in May. Hull was pleased at how the Scorpions negated Princeton’s size advantage, something which will be needed against Asian teams like Kazakhstan and Japan: “It’s important for us to work out how to play against bigger opposition and there were a lot of positives from today.”

Domestic leagues

Spain: INEF Barcelona are favourites to win the Division de Honor after finishing the league phase with a 100% record. They will play Olímpico de Pozuelo in the semi-finals, who finished fourth just ahead of Getxo Artea, who had needed to beat XV Sanse Scrum RC at home in their final game, but had lost 17-24. As a result it was Sanse who took on Majadahonda in the other semi-final, which was played last weekend, with Majadahonda winning a place in the final after a tight 10-7 win (video highlights).

Belgium: Since we last looked at the league, Boisfort have opened a 17 points lead over Dendermonde at the top of Division 1 and will be uncatchable if they beat Antwerp in the next round. Luxembourg’s Walferdange – in essence the Duchy’s national team in all but name - recorded another big win and are well placed to win promotion to the top division.

Italy: The top three teams in each of the two pools will qualify for the play-offs. The league fully resumes after the Six Nations this weekend with four games remaining in the league phase. In the northern Group 1 Rugby Monza, Valsugana (Padua) and Benetton Trevison have largely sown up they places – Monza in particular being unbeaten, while Valsugana’s only loss has been to Monza. In Group 2 Benevento are similarly unbeaten, and Bologna as also well placed to join the in the play-offs. Roma should join them, but newcomers Donne Etrusche stand an outside chance of overhauling them being just 10 points behind.

The season has not been quite as kind on the other new teams. Chicken 2012 Rugby and Rugby Cogoleto & Prov. Ovest are firmly rooted to the bottom of Group 1, while Frascati 2015 Rugby Club,

Torcana Aeroporti di Medici have had a similarly tough experience in Group 2.

Gemany: SC Neuenheim’s unbeaten visit to England last month has done them no harm in the Frauenbundesliga, which they now top by six points from Heidelberg – though the latter have a game in hand – and seven points clear of ASV Köln, whose title hopes they dealt a possibly mortal blow with a 60-0 win the last round. Neuenheim and Heidelberg meet on 9th April in what now appears to be a rehearsal of the likely final on 14th May.

Netherlands: Somewhat predictably, 2014/15 champions RUS (Utrecht) will take on AAC (Amsterdam) in a repeat of last year’s final. RUS finished top of the championship pool, unbeaten, while AAC’s losses were only to RUS – though both games were sufficiently close to make next month’s final anything other than a foregone conclusion.

Scotland: The BT Women’s Premier League restarts this weekend after a Six Nations break during which only one game was played. That game saw Hillhead Jordanhill beat RHC Cougars 43-22 to go top, five points clear of Murrayfield Wanderers, though they have also now played one game more.  The top two meet home-and-away on 24th April and 1st May, which should decide who finishes top of the league. Cougars – 10 points behind Murrayfield now and with two fewer games to play – would seem now to be in a battle for third with Melrose.

Wales: Scarlets Ladies retained the WRU Women's Regional championship with a convincing 33-14 victory over West Wales rivals, Ospreys in at Ystrad Mynach earlier this month. The Ospreys had win the title in 2013 and 2014.

The first three rounds were held before Christmas where the main focus was on SIx Nations selection. Rounds four to six, which was played over the Six Nations period, were aimed more at talent development with one eye on strengthening the regional player depth. Wales coach Rhys Edwards was delighted about the way the tournament had gone: “The ethos of the regional programme is to develop players, and I am really pleased that the regions have bought into it this year. I would like to pass on my thanks to all involved who have worked extremely hard to ensure that players have had an opportunity to develop and play."

The regional championship allows the top players from outside the international squad to show what they can do and The Scarlets had one of the key players in outside half and captain, Jodie Evans. She opened the scoring with a penalty early on and after a try from Jami Davies (which Evans converted) she was able to punish Ospreys with another penalty on 28 minutes. The score was 18-7 at half-time, and soon after the second half began Evans was on target again to further extend The Scarlets’ lead. A fifth successful kick after Scarlet’s fourth try gave the Scarlets an unassailable 33-7 lead, though it was Ospreys who made the final score. "I'm so proud of all of the players who have contributed to this season's campaign in both phases of the season," said Scarlets coach, Daryl Morgan. "Last season's championship was based around an outstanding team, but this year's it's been all about the depth of talent that we've got in the region and everyone pulling together to achieve this."

The result completed a double for The Scarlets, who also won the U18 title.

Australia: New South Wales “Blues” completed a senior and junior double at the Women’s National Sevens Championship at the beginning of March. The senior team – lead by Iliseva Baitbasaga - conceded only one try (to the National Indigenous team) before completing their triumph with a 22-0 win over Queensland in the final. Over 250 juniors and seniors from outside the national squad took part in the intensely competitive two-day tournament that is an important part of Australia’s talent identification programme, and not just for players but also coaches, referees and other officials. The competition took place at the Sydney Academy of Sport – the home of the national squad.