If it has not been said enough before, then it was underlined emphatically in Sao Paulo. The Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens team won its twelfth consecutive World Series game and its second consecutive World Series tournament. This team are clearly the best of the best in this sport.
After 33 matches were played over two days, involving 12 teams, for the second round of the HSBC Women’s World Rugby Sevens series, it all boiled down to two fierce rivals of recent years facing off in the Cup Final: Australia and Canada.
And just when the prospect of the battle ahead could not have been more enticing, an extra degree of difficulty was added to the mix, as the heavens opened over the stadium and continual, heavy rain challenged the athletes on the pitch to do their best.
Australia dealt with the conditions best still able to show the clinical way in which this team plays the game; and while the contest was hard fought, Canada was unable to get across the line to score.
The result puts Australia well ahead on the points table with three out of the five rounds of the 2015/2016 series still to play.
While Rio2016 is on the minds of all involved in the world of Rugby Sevens, Australia is just as keen to bring this Women’s World Series title home before attention turns to Brazil in August.
This close squad knows it will not be an easy goal to achieve despite its current form; fully aware of the calibre of its main opposition and very conscious of the up-and-coming threats beyond its main two rivals.
Despite having started the season with a bang, thereby gaining a break over traditional nemeses Canada and New Zealand, which are tied in second place, there will be no reduction in workload or focus out at Narrabeen -- the home base of the Australian Sevens program.
With a six week break before Round Three, a six-game series has been arranged between circuit rivals, but close neighbors, Australia and New Zealand. It will be played in an Olympic-style format over three days in Sydney from March 12-14 with both teams taking the opportunity to hone their match day strategies and tweak the one-percenters to which the coaches so often refer.
Adding to the anticipation of the final three rounds is another factor: the top three have noticed something in the air on the Women’s Sevens circuit -- they’re being stalked!
While twelve points separate first from second on the rankings table, twelve points is also what separates second from eighth. The rate of improvement which has been made by the subsequent five teams currently ranked below Australia, Canada and New Zealand, has not gone unnoticed with Russia, England and France dominating in Dubai behind Australia while Fiji and particularly the USA put up their collective hands in Sao Paulo last weekend.
Russia surprised everyone by finishing second in Dubai but was unable to back that effort up in Brazil. It did however show the opposition teams the heights coach Pavel Baranovsky’s players are capable of reaching on any given day.
Fijiana, for many, has come to be the sentimental favorite to watch. In the shadow of their male counterparts, who are consistently dominating the Men’s circuit, the Women’s team is developing well and has improved markedly over the past six months, now starting to get some consistent results on the board. The team won the Oceania Championships in November, securing a ticket to Rio; put in a creditable performance in Dubai, following that up with a sixth place in Sao Paulo leaving coach Chris Cracknell satisfied with the step-by-step improvement he is seeing from the team and the individual players.
The big improver emerging from Round Two has been the USA team. Having finished a disappointing eleventh in Dubai, it hit back hard last weekend taking the points for fourth place. What this means is the race is on to the final round in Clermont-Ferrand at the end of May, as teams tune up for the Olympic debut of Rugby Sevens some ten weeks later. While the champion New Zealand squad, along with Canada, have looked less than invincible so far and are lacking consistency, there is no doubt that, with Australia, these are the three to beat. And when you finish a tournament each having two of your squad in the World Rugby Dream Team, you’re doing something right.
Australia’s form on the pitch has not been without mistakes, but when a ruler is run over the overall quality and standard of play, it becomes apparent that added to the elite skill level honed by so many hours of training, there is the positive psychological effect that winning and performing well contributes to the success of a team. Australia has gained a level of confidence and self-belief which adds the x-factor to any game-day performance for any team and which was often the key element attributed to the success of the New Zealand Women’s team over recent years. The next stop on the World Series circuit is the mid-April double-header in North America: Atlanta, USA and Langford in Canada.
With two of the most influential women in World Rugby Sevens leading these two national teams -- it should be a great fortnight of rugby and women’s sport. And, with Atlanta the midway point, it could prove to be the series defining round.