Ireland’s men and France’s women warmed up for the World Rugby Sevens Repechage in Monaco next month by winning an international preparation tournament at St George’s Park in Burton-on-Trent, England.
With six games per team spread evenly over three days, the event replicated the Olympic format, giving the two teams who have already qualified – Team GB's men and women – a taste of what to expect in Tokyo.
All the pre-match rhetoric from coaches was about performance over results as teams welcomed the chance to test themselves against different international opposition after being restricted to internal squad training for months at a time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Ireland’s men and France’s women will have taken great encouragement from taking their respective titles and, along with the French men, will be among the favourites to book their place at the Olympic Games via the repechage.
Ireland grew into the tournament and after a mixed first couple of days Anthony Eddy’s side recorded back-to-back victories on Monday to finish top of the table.
An emphatic 33-0 defeat of the USA was followed by a hard-fought 14-12 victory over hosts Team GB who had beaten them in two equally tight matches over the weekend.
Team GB’s Tom Mitchell admitted to feeling bitter-sweet about the end result.
“Everything we analyse will be about how we can get better and develop as a squad knowing that we haven’t played together before,” Mitchell said. “But we want to win games, you are not here if you don’t want to win games and that’ll be the same if we are playing out here in front of nobody in no stadium and down the line in the tournaments coming up and the big one.”
USA end well
USA brought over a much-changed squad from the one that finished third in the Madrid Sevens back in February and took time to gel.
However, head coach Mike Friday was impressed by how his side bounced back from five straight losses to finish off with a 36-14 win against Team GB. Friday says the performance was unrecognisable from the one immediately before that which saw them dominated by the Irish.
Friday said: “We can only apologise for the first game as that is just not how we go about our business and want to represent.
“Our attitude in the second game is the baseline of intent where we finally got the fruits of our physicality and ensured we looked after the ball, keeping possession errors to a minimum. That said, we recognise that from this weekend, we have a lot of work to do in the last block to ensure our accuracy in the basic components of the game are where they need to be. That was the hindrance to allowing us to get the fluidity in our attack.
“I am happy with how our evolving physical durability is tracking and we will need to keep working smartly to build on that. We’ll take a week recovery and it will be very much heads down with all our focus on building towards Tokyo.”
The USA men will now look ahead to their final training event at Quest For Gold Sevens in Los Angeles from 25-26 June.
Four wins from six suggests France’s women are in good shape to take one of the two remaining Olympics qualification spots when they compete at the repechage on 19-20 June.
Building on their run outs in earlier tournaments in Madrid and Dubai, France won their first three matches, including back-to-back wins against Team GB.
A more experimental line-up was fielded in Sunday’s loss to Ireland before they avenged that result in emphatic style the following day, winning 35-5.
Team GB’s dramatic 19-19 draw with Ireland in the penultimate match of the day guaranteed France the title and made the result of their final fixture against Team GB immaterial.
Team GB ended on a high by winning 33-7, Helena Rowland bringing the curtain down on a fantastic three days with a brilliant try, set up by Megan Jones’ chip and chase.
Rowland finished the tournament with five tries, one fewer than team-mate Rhona Lloyd and Ireland’s Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.
Jasmine Joyce was another standout performer and the Welsh international was delighted to be back out there competing again after so long out.
“It hasn’t been perfect by any means but this is the first tournament we’ve actually played against other opposition and I think there’s some really cool stuff out there and some of the stuff we are doing is really exciting,” Joyce said.
“We’re playing with different combinations, there was 22/24 of us at the moment, but I think when he does nail it down to that 12, I think that 12 will go on to do some fantastic things.”