With the start of the Women’s Rugby World Cup now just over a month away, we bring you our first #BringIt Bulletin – a quick spin around the globe as we round up some of the participating nations’ latest news and pick out one of the tournament’s potential stars.
THE EAGLES’ NIFTY FIFTY AND SWEATING IT OUT WITH THE NAVY SEALS: Happy Independence Day to our American friends and colleagues! The USA Women played their final WRWC warm-up match in San Diego last Saturday and ran out comprehensive 50-0 winners over the first ever Women’s Premier League All-Stars side.
US Sevens regulars Cheta Emba, Naya Tapper and Kristen Thomas chipped in with two tries apiece, with forwards Sara Parsons and Elizabeth Cairns also touching down. Kimber Rozier, who started at out-half alongside Devan Owsiany, landed five conversions off the tee.
The Women’s Eagles are now in week two of a month-long training camp ahead of the World Cup, and reflecting on last weekend’s win, head coach Pete Steinberg said: “We showed glimpses. There were moments we were able to control the ball for phases. We want to play a fast game, but I don’t think we’re quite ready to play the game we want to play.
“We have to do better in the tackle contest – the tackle contest on attack is really the area we need to work on. With the outside backs that we have, if we can play fast (from the ruck) we can play with people. We showed grit and determination in defence in the second half to hold them out. We’re about where we thought we’d be with three weeks to go before we go to Ireland.”
Meanwhile, there was no sign of picnic baskets and multi-coloured inflatables when the US Women’s squad recently visited the Silver Strand near San Diego. Instead, they were put through their paces at the Naval Special Warfare Centre’s obstacle course where Navy SEAL teams train. This is team-building on an elite scale!:
BLACK FERNS’ FIAO’O IS HONOURED BY NZ POLICE: Like Ireland’s own captain Niamh Briggs, her New Zealand counterpart Fiao’o Fa’amausili serves on her national police force. Yesterday saw the 36-year-old Fa’amausili, who is a Detective Constable, receive the NZ Police Association Sportsperson of the Year award for 2016.
Paying tribute to one of the word’s leading Test hookers, NZ Police Association President Chris Cahill said: “This award is in recognition of another year of great achievements in both national and international rugby. Fiao’o’s work ethic and willingness to take on a challenge has earned her respect from her colleagues, fellow athletes, and the wider community.
“Her achievements reflect positively on Police too. The Police family feels proud when one of our own achieves such success in New Zealand and on the international stage.”
Fa’amausili, who is closing in on 50 caps for the Black Ferns, made her debut for New Zealand at the 2002 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Barcelona. In the past year, she has been nominated for the New Zealand Women’s and World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year awards, while finishing as the Farah Palmer Cup (WPC) top try scorer and receiving the Auckland Storm Forward of the Year and Auckland Samoa Women’s Player of the Year gongs.
Her willingness to take on challenges is an attribute that has always helped Fiao’o achieve her goals. In 2010 she graduated as a constable from Police College at the same time as she was training for that year’s World Cup in London. The Black Ferns won, two years later Fiao’o was captain and, six years on she was a Police detective.
“You’ve got to go in hard and tough it out, much like the situations we come up against in policing,” said the current Black Ferns skipper, whose team-mate Selica Winiata is a past winner of the NZ Police Sportsperson award. Fiao’o, who also works with Cure Kids NZ and in grassroots school rugby, added: “It’s awesome to see (more girls and women playing now) and for them to know that rugby is not just a game for the boys.”
ROLL UP, ROLL UP FOR MORE WRWC WARM-UPS: All eyes were on the four-team International Women’s Series in New Zealand last month, but July still has some juicy WRWC warm-up fixtures for fans to follow closely. There are two interesting clashes this week as Wales host Spain’s Leonas in Cardiff this coming Saturday (2.30pm), while Hong Kong will play Japan – one of Ireland’s Pool C rivals – in the opening round of the Asian Women’s Championship.
WRWC newcomers Hong Kong will travel to Kanagawa to take on their Japanese counterparts at Shiroyama Athletic Stadium (kick-off 12pm) on Saturday afternoon, before a return match on home soil the following Saturday (July 15). Japan are the reigning Asian champions and defeated a young Wales side 52-10 at Ystrad Mynach most recently. Impressive backs Akari Kato and Iroha Nagata scored two tries apiece that day.
National Age Grade programme graduate Kelsie Bouttle is set to earn her first cap for Hong Kong this Saturday after a standout season for league and Grand Championship winners Valley. Head coach Jo Hull has also welcomed the return of some of the side’s senior campaigners in centre Adrienne Garvey, who will captain the team in Japan, and flanker Christine Gordon.
Hull said: “It is a bit of a different squad. It is great to have Rocky (Garvey) and Chrissie (Gordon) back, and we are excited to be able to blood another new cap in Kelsie, along with the five first-timers who went to Spain (for the two-match tour over a month ago).
“We are using this opportunity to look at a few different starters and combinations, like Lindsay Varty at scrum half and ‘BB’ (Lee Tsz-ting) at ten. We think that could be an exciting combination as both are playing well at the moment.
“The selection reflects our preparations for the World Cup, which is our only focus at the moment. Everything we’re doing is building towards being ready for the first match against Canada next month.”
Meanwhile, Spain are out for revenge after losing 39-0 to Wales in Alicante in mid-January, with the visitors having try doubles from centre Kerin Lake, hooker Lowri Harries and Sevens speedster Jasmine Joyce. Patricia Garcia leads a talented Sevens contingent named in the Spanish squad for this weekend’s rematch in the Welsh capital.
SPAIN Squad (v Wales): Backs (11) – Maria Ahis (Olimpico de Pozuelo), Iera Echebarria (Olimpico de Pozuelo), Sabina Hurtado (Olimpico de Pozuelo), Irene Schiavon Olumpico de Pozuelo), Anne Fernandez de Corres (CR Cisneros), Amaia Erbina (CR Cisneros), Carlota Meliz (XV Sanse Scrum), Maria Casado Gonzalez (INEF Barcelona), Uribarri Barrutieta (Getxo RT), Barbara Pla (Getxo RT), Patricia Garcia (FER).
Forwards (15) – Isabel Rico (Olimpico de Pozuelo), Isabel Macias (Olimpico de Pozuelo), Maria Ribera (XV Sanse Scrum), Angela del Pan (INEF Barcelona), Maria Losada (INEF Barcelona), Aroa Gonzalez (INEF Barcelona), Diana Gasso (Gotics RC), Monica Castelo (CRAT Universidade da Coruna), Laura Delgado (CRAT Universidade da Coruna), Berta Garcia (CRAT Universidade da Coruna), Paula Medin (CRAT Universidade da Coruna), Saioa Jaurena (Getxo RT), Carmen Perez (Getxo RT), Jeanina Alejandra Vinueza (Saracens Rugby FC), Elena Redondo Casado (Gent Rugby Football Club).
JAPAN: Mayu Shimizu (Nippon Sport Science Univ); Riho Kurogi (Arukas Queen Kumagaya), Iroha Nagata (Arukas Queen Kumagaya), Keiko Kato (Setagaya Ladies), Eriko Hirano (Yokohama Tkm); Wasana Fukushima (Otemon Gakuin Univ), Yumeno Noda (Arukas Queen Kumagaya); Makoto Ebuchi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ/Tokyo Phoenix Rc), Seina Saito (Pearls), Saki Minami (Nippon Sport Science Univ), Aya Nakajima (Arukas Queen Kumagaya), Ayano Sakurai (Nippon Sport Science Univ), Yui Shiozaki (Tokyo Phoenix RC), Yuki Sue (Arukas Queen Kumagaya), Sayaka Suzuki (Rku Rugby Ryugasaki Grace).
Replacements: Chihiro Kobayashi (Rku Rugby Ryugasaki Grace), Maiko Fujimoto (Yokohama Tkm), Sachiko Kato (Nagoya Ladies/Chubu Univ. Haruhigaoka Hs), Sora Konishi (Kokugakuin Univ. Tochigi Hs), Yuki Oyokawa (Nippon Sport Science Univ), Moe Tsukui (The Second Hs, Tokyo University Of Agriculture), Chikami Inoue (Rku Rugby Ryugasaki Grace), Ai Tasaka (Arukas Queen Kumagaya).
HONG KONG: Aggie Poon Pak-yan (Gai Wu); Laurel Chor Lik-fung (Valley), Adrienne Garvey (Valley) (capt), Rebecca Thompson (Valley), Lau Sze-wa (Valley); Lee Tsz-ting (Gai Wu/HKBU), Lindsay Varty (URSC Tigers); Lay Nga-wun (Gai Wu), Royce Chan Leong-sze (HKFC), Wong Yuen-shan (USRC Tigers/EdUHK), Chan Ka-yan (Gai Wu), Tsang Sin Yan (Kowloon), Christine Gordon (Kowloon), Chan Tsz-ching (Tai Po Dragons/HKBU), Amelie Seure (Valley).
Replacements: Ho Hoi-lam (Gai Wu), Cheung Shuk-han (Valley), Pun Wai-yan (Gai Wu/EdUHK), Winnie Siu Wing-ni (USRC Tigers), Tsang Sin-yan (Kowloon), Ho Jessica Wai-on (USRC Tigers), Rose Hopewell-Fong Siu-lan (HKFC), Kelsie Bouttle (Valley/ICHK).
‘THE ITALIAN JOB’ BEGINS IN TIRRENIA: The Italy Women have based themselves on the Tuscan coast, beavering away at the Olympic Training Centre In Tirrenia as they gear up to face defending champions England, Spain and the USA in Pool B next month.
Italian head coach Andrea di Giandomenico said: “The girls came into camp in great shape, they’ve all followed personalised programmes and are very motivated and eager to train and work hard. The coaches and backroom staff are too, we’re all excited for what awaits in Ireland in just over a month.
“We can’t wait to get out on the pitch and play. We’ve analysed our game-plan, the work in the gym and on the training pitch. For the next camp, we’ll have more players available so the picture will become clearer squad-wise. This weekend’s Grand Prix Sevens Series in Kazan will also give us the opportunity to see how some players are progressing.”
As well as their first stint in Tirrenia last week, the Azzurre will return there for two more camps on July 13-16 and July 26-29 before flying to Dublin from Milan on August 5. Notably, there were three uncapped players involved in last week’s camp – Umbria Rugby Ragazze prop Eleonora Ricci, Rugby Colorno lock Sara Tounesi and Pordenone Rugby back Aura Muzzo who is also part of Italy’s Sevens squad for Kazan this weekend.
ONE TO WATCH – MAHALIA MURPHY (AUSTRALIA): Gifted with natural athleticism, strength and speed, the Blacktown, NSW-born Mahalia Murphy wanted to replicate the feats of 400 metres star Cathy Freeman growing up. But it is with the oval ball that she has shone, impressing at the 2015 Pacific Games and linking up with the Australia Sevens programme in August 2015.
Roll on nearly two years, and following some excellent performances in the green and gold on the global Sevens circuit, it will be fascinating to see how 15s new cap Murphy fits into the Wallaroos’ plans for next month’s World Cup. She has the potential to be one of the tournament’s emerging stars at just 23.
Hugely proud to represent Australia on rugby’s biggest stage and also of her indigenous heritage, the talented youngster said: “For me it’s extremely important. There’s a lot of stereotyping of Aboriginal people. There are a lot of us that are naturally talented and have potential, that’s why it’s important for me because of the history of our people and moving forward with our culture in a positive way. Especially in sport, underlining the positives to inspire other kids and show them that they can do it as well.”
PRE-TOURNAMENT BUZZ: NIAMH BRIGGS (IRELAND) – “If we can put in a good shift at next month’s World Cup on home soil and get the country behind the sport in the same way our New Zealand win did (in 2014), that can only be good for the game. We have to take the opportunity to build a strong legacy.
“The prospect of captaining Ireland at a World Cup on home soil is very exciting. It would be a hugely proud moment for me and my family – but I have to get picked first! I have been very fortunate to have a good bunch of senior girls in the team who are able to take on leadership roles when needed and we very much work together at it.
“I learned a lot from Fiona Coghlan, and watched Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, but ultimately it’s about being comfortable in the role. I’ve missed a lot of rugby this year. That takes its toll mentally. You will always worry about your place in a World Cup year but the support from staff and the team has been great. I’ve just been concentrating on getting myself back in, getting fit again, showing what I can do in training, and putting my hand up for selection.”
SARAH HUNTER (ENGLAND) – “We have to look at it and recognise what we achieved out there (in the International Series) in New Zealand. It’s important to have that winning momentum and confidence in our ability as a squad and also recognise where we are but also remember where we want to be.
“I think we’ve got the balance right. It’s a good place to be but we haven’t won anything yet. We can’t get carried away. We have to get better, we have to keep learning over these next few weeks.
“Our feet are firmly on the floor, we’ve set targets, little milestones and this is now the next one. We know where we are as a squad and what we need to do next. The next part of that journey is the World Cup. It’s the ultimate goal – to win in Ireland.”
CAROLINE THOMAS (FRANCE) – “If you said a year-and-a-half ago that I would be preparing to play in a World Cup now, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it’s really awesome. It’s an honour to wear the French jersey, and to participate in a World Cup will be even better.
“You look at the men’s Six Nations games in Dublin. It makes you dream of playing there. We often talk about New Zealand, which is the country of rugby, but Ireland is a beautiful country to play a World Cup. At the last World Cup when France were hosts, the team finished third. We have a good squad and I think we can achieve something very special together in Ireland.
“Since the announcement of the squad a couple of weeks back, the pressure has risen a notch in camp. We have not played for a while. I have ants in my pants! We can’t wait for the tournament to start!”
WRWC SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENTS SO FAR: 5
For more on the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, visit the tournament website – www.rwcwomens.com. Buy your match tickets for #WRWC2017 now on www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wrwc2017 and www.ticketmaster.ie/wrwc2017.