|It's England... European Sevens Champions! And all this despite something terrible happening to their shirts in the wash (well, that or their tactic was to pretend to be Dutch...)|
England's new-look sevens team were at their first international tournament after preparations which included three domestic club sevens (resulting in three finals, and one win) since June, and the big question was how this preparation would compare with teams that have played nothing but sevens for the better part of a year.
The answer was pretty well. Admittedly the draw helped, with an opening game against one of the weakest teams in the tournament (Romania), who were swept aside 46-0, before a game against the only international side England were familiar with - Sweden - who were beaten 20-5.
|Netherlands v France. At least one team knows what|
shirts they should wear...
RFU report on Day 1
If England's Pool A had gone more or less to plan, the same could not be said for Pool B. France were shattered by an opening defeat to Portugal, not recovering until their fourth game - by when they were out of contention. Netherlands were sweeping all before them - until they lost their key player, Kelly van Harskamp - sent off after two yellows against Portugal. With their best player unavailable they lost their next game to Russia, meaning that they would meet England in the semi-finals.
This proved to be an incredibly tight game. With van Harskamp back after her one game suspension the Dutch were very dangerous - but in the end it was they who cracked. Two crucial errors either side of halftime were enough to give England a 14-0 win, and a place in the final... against Spain.
Amazingly, every European Sevens has ended with either Spain or England in the final - and, for the third time in seven events, they met each other. England had won every previous game the two teams had played, and after four minutes a Spanish error gave England the lead. But it did not last - and Spain came back, going in to half-time 7-5 ahead.
To confuse the world at large, this score then appeared on the tournament website as the final score, prompting celebrations at the Spanish RFU in Madrid. However, it was not to be for Spain. England roared back in the second period with two tries and a dramatic 17-7 win.
RFU Report on Day 2
So - do you need a Sevens programme? Well, truth be told it was a "damn close run thing" (to misquote Wellington) and, in the end, it is probably England's professionalism and familiarity to pressure that will have seen them through. What is clear, however, is that the rest of Europe are gaining. The "OMG its England!" factor still plays to England's advantage, but the Dutch at least are less fazed than they used to be (going from 52-0 in 2008 to 14-0 now), and Spain were within minutes of winning as well. With the Dutch - as a result of their 3rd place - getting full-time professional funding from their Olympic Committee, the gap is going to close even more. And that is before you take into account what is happening in Sevens outside Europe.
Fortunately, of course, England do now have a Sevens programme - in essence it starts here. We are promised a dedicated squad who will tour the world, alongside the Dutch, Spanish, French and Canadians - amongst others. Next year could see this European Championship expanded to a three tournament event, as well as a World Cup qualification process. 2013 will be World Cup year, then it'll be straight into Olympic qualification. Its going to be an exciting ride.