‘The biggest and best series yet’ those are the words that accompanied the build up to the start of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and with all roads leading to the Olympics in Rio they are spot on.
For supporters the annual Duabi series opener is one of the most popular legs of the tour as it is renowned cracking rugby and a delectable atmosphere. The women had the honour of kick starting the series and they did so in style on Thursday and Friday.
The opening day commenced with three huge upsets, Fijian a side now coached by former England 7s player Chris Cracknell, blew last year’s runners up Canada out of the water with their sublime offloading style. Next qualifiers Ireland, playing as a core team for the first time in a number of years, beat the USA and finally Russia made a huge statement by toppling the reigning champions New Zealand in empathic style.
After viewing all of this action from the sidelines England started their account strongly with a 35-0 victory over Japan with Simon Middleton’s side looking fresh and focused. Amy Wilson-Hardy, a new member of the squad, started her series career in perfect fashion scoring three tries and the reliable boot of Katy Mclean slotted four of their five conversions.
Following a short breather England faced Spain in a match that was a much greater test of their nous and fitness. Spain dominated the opening half and Marina Bravo made England pay for their slow start by putting the Spaniards up by 7-0 at the break. At times of trouble you always want your experienced players to step up and that is exactly what Emily Scarratt did. She used her long limbs brilliantly to get England off the mark and then when it looked to be heading for a draw Heather Fisher opportunistically grabbed the ball off the base of a ruck and charged home. The Spanish were outraged believing the ruck still to be formed, however the referee thought otherwise, and Heather’s quick thinking provided England with the score to take the match.
England’s final outing on day one was against familiar foes, Australia. The form book suggested that this game was always going to decide in Pool C and the Australians were in imperious form. Emilee Cherry and one of the players of the series, Ellia Green, made England pay for their lackluster outing and the Wallabies comfortably took the result by 24-7.
England’s Pool C second place finish put them in Cup quarter-final four and set up an encounter against the side that they beat in the XVs Rugby World Cup Final, Canada.
Day two dawned fresh and bright, with the stunning Dubai sunshine providing the perfect back drop for the final day of matches. Straight from the offset England were pushed all the way by a Canada with Magali Harvey showing us her full box of tricks. However a rare mistake from their highly experienced captain Jen Kish settled the game and England’s victory set up a Cup semi-final meeting Russia.
The Russians’ dominance continued and two tries in two minutes set the tone. That said England pushed back and locked the scores at 12-12, however two ladies that had been in sublime form, Marian Petrova and Baizat Khamidova, combined beautifully to take the match with the last play of the game.
England’s final outing in Dubai was the third place decider against France and it was a thriller that never wanted to end. England found themselves with their hearts in their mouths as, on the cusp of full time, Christelle Le Duff had a conversion to take the game however the kick didn’t reach the posts. Locked at 5-5 and with the fact that there had to be a winner and loser of this third place playoff we headed to extra time and golden points!
The words in England’s huddle were simple ‘stay composed and when the ball is in play keep the tempo up’. England did just that and launched wave after wave of positive attacks but the French defensive wall was holding up. After what must have seemed like a lifetime, Fisher was the lady of the moment again as she charged over in the far left hand corner and sealed the third spot.
England’s opening 16 points is a really strong position to start the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series from. The side looked fit and across the two days played some ambitious rugby, however you sense that there is still more to come. There’s plenty of time before the second round in Sao Paulo, it kicks off on 20th February and on that leg we’ll expect even more from England’s women.