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World Cup: One Year on (9-12)

Today marks one year since the end of the 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup. In our special three part series we examine what each of the 12 teams who competed at the competition last year have been up to since, and what their plans are for the rest of the year. First up are the teams who finished in the bottom four, Wales, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Sweden. Words by Ali Donnelly and John Birch.

Wales (9th at WC)

After a bitterly disappointing start to 2010, Wales were one of the teams who certainly underperformed at the World Cup later that summer. A ninth place finish was a poor return for a team packed with talent but one year on and the WRU can breathe a lot easier with how their team has started the process of rebuilding. Kris de Scossa swapped Canada for Wales to come in as head coach earlier this year, with Welsh womens rugby legend Lisa Burgess as his assistant.

Having finished bottom of the 2009 Six Nations, Wales were handed the toughest possible start to the 2010 edition against reigning champions and World Cup finalists England.

In the 19-0 loss though Wales showed enough promise to show that they had moved on from a dismal 2010. Wales went on to dismiss Scotland and then Di Scossas abrupt departure forced Burgess and Rhys Edwards step up to lead the side and the Welsh side showed superb composure to beat Ireland in a tight game that weekend. A surprise defeat to Italy was followed by a promising performance against France and overall it is safe to say that Wales were certainly back on track.

Wales were also active this year at U20 level coming out on the wrong end of a 32-19 loss to England, despite leading 12-8 at halftime.

A key asset for Wales is their improving strength in depth with a number of their U20 youngsters good enough to come through the senior set up in the coming seasons.

They have also got some world class players in their ranks with skipper Catrin Edwards one of the most talented front row talents in the game, and they have some excellent emerging young talent. Their focus predominantly on the 15s game to date should be interesting to follow, as they have little history in developing themselves as a force in the 7s game which will surely begin to change in the coming years. Whether they have sufficient strength in numbers to compete on both fronts will be the key question.

Games since last World Cup: Six (5 Six Nations and 1 U20)

Plans for rest of 2011: No international games in place as yet though Six Nations warm-ups likely in December.

SOUTH AFRICA (10th at WC)

One thing South Africa is not lacking is support from its governing body with the South Africa Rugby Union (SARU) investment strongly in its women's game in recent years. From being relatively inactive a few years ago, South Africa have been much more active of late on the international front and with both their senior and U20 sides travelling to Canada and the USA this year for Nations Cup duty, the country is beginning to develop a healthy amount of high level experience. This year a new initiative was also launched in the country with government support which aims to attract more female players from rural areas which if nothing else will at least help deliver more strength in depth in the grass roots game.

At the World Cup South Africa were tipped as a side who were capable of springing some surprises having gone into the tournament with wins over Scotland and Kazakhstan but lack of discipline and inexperience cost them in games that counted. Nonetheless the win over Wales in the pool stages showed that with more experience they could be side to challenge for middle tier positions at the next tournament. Head coach Denvar Wannies was reappointed head coach earlier this year and he led his side to perhaps their biggest every victory earlier this summer when they beat the USA at the Nations Cup. At U20 level too there has been a major focus on developing top players with camps being run for this age group since last December culminating in their first appearance at a major age grade international event at the Nations Cup. South Africa failed to win a game but picked up valuable experience.

Unlike other competitive nations, South Africa do have the benefit of a financially healthy union who are supportive of their development on the international stage.

That means that Wannies can continue to develop his team by playing against top six nations. However they could also greatly boost the health of women's rugby in the African region by playing more regular tests against sides like Kenya and Uganda who themselves struggle for fixtures at 15 aside level and are more and more likely to simply focus on developing their talents in the 7s game.

Games since last World Cup: 8 four at U20s level and four at senior level.
Plans for rest of 2011: Training camps at both levels once the countrys Interprovincial championships have concluded this month.

KAZAKHSTAN (11th at WC)

The World Cup was not the only major sporting event to take place last year. 2010 was also the year of the Asian Games - a multi-national multi-sport event only really rivalled in size by the Olympics and for the first time the 2010 Games included womens sevens rugby. Kazakhstan have, historically, been Asias leading rugby nation, but on this occasion few observers expected them to take gold. That would go to China. The Games were in China, China had won the rehearsal event the Asian Championship in July, and had not been beaten by anyone in Asia for years.Clearly no-one told the Kazakhs. With a squad made up almost entirely of players who had appeared at WRWC, they first warmed-up by taking the Asia-Pacific title in Borneo before travelling to Guangzhou. They blitzed through the opening stages to reach the inevitable final against China. After some early exchanges, the hosts held a two point lead for most of the game until a breath-taking final two minutes saw three tries scored two for the Kazakhs giving them a 17-14 win. Since then its been pretty quiet for Kazakh rugby. There was no Asian 15s championship in 2010, and will be none this year either (although there will be a Division II competition for developing nations). As a result the 15-a-side team has been all but dormant, apart from a 58-3 win in a friendly against Uzbekistan. Looking ahead there may be a Division I 15s tournament in 2012 or 2013, but for the next year or so it will be mainly Sevens. Many of the squad have already been appearing in the colours of Almaty at tournaments such as the Dubai 7s and Kazakhstans aim will now to ensure that they do not miss out on the 2013 7s World Cup (as they did in 2009).

Inevitable though this is, the danger is that by the time Kazakhstan do refocus back onto 15s most of the rest of the world may have moved on. Again. That they will probably remain Asias leading side is not in doubt - China show no interest in 15s, and so for the time being only Japan represent any form of threat. They will almost certainly be in Paris in 2014. However, they had clearly fallen behind most of the rest of the 15s world last year, and the fear must be that without some greater challenges outside Asia - by 2014 they will struggle to even retain their 11th place. But with their geographic isolation and lack of funding, what opportunities do they have?

Games since WC: Two Sevens Tournaments:
Plans for rest of 2011. None to date.

SWEDEN (12th at WC)

As with all Scandinavian countries, rugby is essentially a summer sport in Sweden, and the end of WRWC 2010 was shortly followed by the end of the 2010 Swedish season. When the game re-emerged into the spring sunshine it brought with it a very new-look Swedish team.

Building for the future is clearly the key aim of the Swedish XV squad. Sixteen of the 23 players selected for the first international in April were new caps, with 24 year-old Elisabeth Ygge one of their most impressive young players at WRWC being selected to lead the new team. A few experienced players remained including forwards Henrietta Hgberg and Katarina Boman - but the back-line in particular was almost entirely new to international rugby.

The FIRA European Championship remains the main target for the XVs team. Although very much a learning experience, the results were encouraging. An overall 6th place included a 20-0 win over Finland, and good performances elsewhere especially against hosts and eventual finalists Spain, restricting a team that had just beaten France to only two tries in a 18-3 defeat.

Several members of the WRWC squad who did not go to Spain were still wearing the national colours, however, as the national sevens squad was significantly more experienced that the XVs team. WRWC players such as Ulrika Anderson-Hall, Erica Anderson, Jessica Melin and Anna-Lena Swartz were joined by Sofia Gertz and Ninni Giebat-Johansson from the XVs squad in the team that travelled to Bucharest for the European 7s, having spent much of the early summer warming up at tournaments in England. It was a policy justified by Swedens need to retain their place in the European Top 12, especially with Sevens World Cup qualification next year and it was a target well achieved, with three wins in their seven games giving the team a solid 9th place.

Looking ahead, womens rugby remains a small sport in Sweden, though WRWC significantly raised the profile of the game, and the increased media interest was largely maintained throughout 2011. The new, young, XVs squad can only improve over the next few seasons.

Appearances since the WC: Friendly against Finland & the European Trophy (15s); Rugby Rocks and FIRAs European Sevens (7s)
Plans for rest of 2011. None to date.