A preview of Pool C of the Rugby World Cup Sevens which includes USA, Brazil, Fiji and Spain
A team with enough power and pace to frighten any side, USA are certainly one of the sides capable of shocking the more fancied teams in Moscow.
With pace to burn, USA are one of the most physical teams on the circuit and they should certainly be confident about their chances of at least reaching at the very last the last eight of the competition.
Fourth on the World Series this season, Ric Suggitt’s charges recovered well from a disappointing outing in Dubai earlier in the season, with the highlight of the year seeing them go all the way to the Cup final in Houston at their home tournament.
Fulltime training in Chula Vista has certainly benefitted USA, who are one of the fittest sides around and in Vanesha McGee and Victoria Folayan they have two of the top finishers in the game. What has let the USA down from time to time has been key handling errors and that’s something they will need to eradicate. Their clash with Spain – a side who they always experience tight games against – will be vital.
One of the most exciting teams in women’s sevens, Spain have had one of the toughest possible seasons. With a small, but highly talented, pool of players they have had to simultaneously prepare for the sevens World Cup while – at the same time – attempting to qualify for next year’s 15s tournament.
That they have managed to do both is a testament to the effort and commitment of the team. They slipped from second to fourth in the European Championship, but that is less significant than in previous years with so many teams using it as a warm-up for Moscow.
The last-minute withdrawal of Laura Esbri is something of a blow, but the rest of the talented squad – including Patricia Garcia, Marina Bravo, and Barbra Pla (to name but three) have survived a punishing season largely unscathed.
Dangerous and determined opposition, Spain have beaten every one of their major rivals, except England and New Zealand, within the past couple of years – their recent record against Australia being particularly good. A place in the quarter-finals (and with it the World Series core status they prize) would seem to be the minimum they can expect from the tournament. They have finished fifth or sixth in every IRB tournament since 2009 (where they were Plate semi-finalists) and can confidently expect to at least continue with that record.
Fiji are the great unknown of the tournament – even to themselves. Following their disappointing performance in their only IRB tournament in Guangzhou, and what Frank Bolvert of the Fiji Rugby Academy described as “internal problems”, a completely new team and management structure was introduced in May.
At least half of the team have never played tournament sevens before, with several completely new to rugby, as a result of a programme to introduce talented athletes to rugby sevens, based on similar programmes in Australia and New Zealand.
Bolvert, who has experience of women’s rugby in the USA and Spain, suggests that his team is about “even” with these two teams in terms of potential, “the only thing that would be missing for Fiji would be the experience and the attitude towards high performance.”
For Fiji the World Cup is a step on the way towards the Olympics, but they are confident that they can spring some surprises and make the quarter finals. It’s not an unrealistic prospect – in the past couple of years Fiji have thrashed most of the top Asian teams, and could therefore reasonably expect to beat Brazil, and maybe Spain or the USA – if it were not for the astonishing last-minute upheavals. To introduce new players, change the coaches and replace half the team would be something of a risk a year out from the tournament, but to undertake such changes only six weeks from the kick-off is a huge gamble.
It may come off – and if Brazil had been their first opponents there might have been a chance for the new players to learn. But Brazil come last, by which time Fiji’s quarter-final hope will probably be at an end.
While they are the undisputed queens of South America, it has not always been an easy experience for Brazil outside of it.
Finishing bottom in Amsterdam recently – where they did experience a large number of injuries – Brazil tend too often to be simply outmuscled by the more experienced sides in women’s rugby.
That could continue to be a problem for them in Moscow where they face three physical teams in their pool but for Brazil – the World Cup is merely a stepping stone on the way to the Olympics in 2016 which they host.
Nonetheless, as one of the tournament underdogs, Brazil would relish springing a surprise in this pool and they are not incapable of that and going through to the Plate title rather than the Bowl which may be where they do best. Paula Isibashi is a key player for them.