Sweden travel to Geneva this weekend knowing they only need to claim a point against Switzerland to win the Rugby Europe Women’s Trophy title.
The team’s 31-12 defeat of reigning champions Czechia in October, secured by tries from Sofya Smolina, Tove Viksten, Sara Lennvall, Victoria Patersson and Minonna Nunstedt, has put Sweden within touching distance of glory.
For coach Claire Cruikshank, lifting the Women’s Trophy on Saturday would be a fitting reward for the hard work and dedication each member of the squad has put in over the past two years.
It was only in November 2019 that Sweden returned to the international stage following a five-year absence and much of the time since has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former Scotland international Cruikshank and her assistant, Rugby World Cup winner Tamara Taylor, have only been able to attend five training camps in person over the past eight months.
Great weekend back with the Swedish based XVs squad players. Contact prepping for the 3rd and final @rugby_europe Trophy match v @SwissRugbyUnion in March #Sverige #Rugby #womensrugby #rugbyeurope #trophy pic.twitter.com/lJSaCKklmy— Claire Cruikshank (@ccruikshank1) February 13, 2022
The most recent of those were held at an indoor wrestling facility in February as the sub-zero winter temperatures in Sweden make it impossible to train outside.
“We haven’t actually had that much time together over the last two years,” Cruikshank, who works full-time as Head of Performance Women’s Rugby at the University of Edinburgh, told World Rugby.
“So, for us to go and win this championship would be a huge achievement for the players.”
Sweden’s domestic season stops between November and April due to the weather, meaning the bulk of the squad have been training on their own at home.
Those players have had access to an online portal, though, through which they can connect with the coaches, while Cruikshank and Taylor have been in daily contact as they prepare for the match in Geneva.
Cruikshank wants the team to play a fast, exciting brand of rugby as she attempts to attract new players and supporters to the game, and she has been happy with how the squad has adapted to her methods.
“In our first two games we were really pleased with the performance of the players. We've tried to bring in a slightly different style of play to what they're used to, so we're really pleased with the progress from the Finland to the Czech game,” she said.
“The big benefit is we've got some players who are playing in the UK and France, so they've obviously been exposed to rugby during that period.
“It's going to be tough because Switzerland are powerful, they're athletic and they're going to be at home. I can imagine it's going to be quite loud, there's going to be some cow bells.
“So, it's going to be quite a nice place to play if you're Swiss and a bit more challenging for us. We’ve just got to put into practice what we've been doing and take it from there.
“But, you know, we're in a good place physically and mentally and just collectively as a group as well.”
Saturday will be the first meeting of the two nations at this level, following the cancellation of their match two years ago due to the pandemic.
The hosts have played only one test since then, a 27-0 defeat to Czechia, but Cruikshank is clearly taking nothing for granted.
Sweden cannot improve on their World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini rating but will drop one place to 20th, below Germany, in defeat. Switzerland would climb to 37th on Monday should they win by more than 15 points.
“We’ve got to be switched on for them because if we don’t front up physically, it could be a tough afternoon for us in Geneva,” Cruikshank added.
As a proud Scot, who represented her country at Rugby World Cup 2006, Cruikshank was pleased to see her nation qualify for RWC 2021.
But, while she says it would be “massive” to follow up that success with some silverware of her own, her thoughts are firmly on preparing her team and growing the game in Sweden.
“Scotland qualifying for the World Cup is absolutely brilliant and it's no more than they deserve. They've had a tough few years,” she said.
“For me personally, my focus is purely on Sweden and this journey that we're going on, and that is really exciting.
“The other really good thing is that we're getting buy-in from, not just the clubs in Sweden, but the board and everybody. So, there's a real emphasis on our women's 15s, which is really pleasing.”