|Jo Watmore scores winning try for England in final|
Over the past year each tournament seems to have had more and more players from the Elite Squad, fewer and fewer from the Sevens Squad. There are now only about four players left from the 10 selected 12 months ago, and one of them is Michaela Staniford who, with over 50 England caps, is a bit untypical of the rest!
Anyway - it is now clear, I think, that the policy is to pick the best team England can at all times, and win everything. And you really cannot argue to much with that. Not least when it works as well as it did last night.
The 12-woman squad selected for the Hong Kong Sevens - the second IRB Women's Challenge tournament - included only four players who had played in last year's European Championships, and only seven from the first IRB Challenge in Dubai last November, where England had finished as runners-up. Out when young players like Emily Scott and Sarah McKenna, and in came Elite players like Rachel Burford and Alice Richardson. With 10 "Elite" players in all, England clearly meant business.
England breezed through the pool - as they would have been expected to, facing China and Japan. The former is pouring money and resources into sevens rugby, but their target is 2016 - this is just a stepping stone on the way. The latter are Asia's third best team and, despite a lot of investment as well, are unlikely to make the World Cup next year. England scored 69 points, conceding just one try to China.
This gave England a semi-final against Canada this morning (you have to wonder who the incompetent genius behind the seeding for this tournament was, incidentally, as this was not the only occasion where match scheduling - and come to that team transport arrangements - raised eyebrows). Canada had not lost a game for over a year, and had five major titles to their name - but England won by 22-12. Then in the final England beat World Champions Australia, as they had in Dubai, this time 15-10 (ScrumQueens match report).
Its now pretty clear that England have beginning to target sevens in a way that they never have before. In May England will host their first ever international women's sevens tournament - the IRB Challenge at the London Sevens, after which it will be the European Series and World Cup qualifier, and then next year the new IRB Women's Series.
What will be interesting to see is what effect this all has on the England XVs team. French attempts to play 15s and 7s at the same time has not been a success, and when England tried it in 2009 the result was their only failure to record a Grand Slam in the past seven years.
- Overall a great 7s for England... and also Australia, and Spain - plate winners again having come with seconds on making the semi-finals. Truly criminal that they will not be in London!!! China also well after their pasting from England, thumping Russia (who had beaten Netherlands) and pushing Spain all the way.
- USA will be happy with the semi-final, and World Cup hosts Russia will also take some positives from this weekend.
- Canada, on the other hand, have had a wake-up call - they are no invincible after all. Japan will be disappointed, but for Netherlands it was close to a disaster. Two weeks in South Africa preparing, and from four games they could only beat Hong Kong....