“This is the start for us”: Japan ready to take on the world after Chile triumph
Sakura Sevens coach Takashi Suzuki and captain Yume Hirano give their verdict on the team’s World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series campaign success.
Poland’s World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2022 disappointment has only made the squad more determined to secure core status on the women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, according to Malgorzata Koldej.
Former sprint star Koldej scored 11 tries to help Poland into Sunday’s women’s Challenger Series final in Santiago, Chile – including two in the 22-15 semi-final win against China.
Claiming core Series status would have been a fitting way to continue a standout year for a team that won the Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Championship, qualified for Rugby World Cup Sevens and appeared at two Series tournaments – all for the first time.
However, Japan proved too strong in the showpiece match, keeping Koldej and Poland scoreless to earn their place on the Series with a 17-0 win at Estadio Santa Laura.
Koldej admits the Sakura Sevens deserved their victory but believes her team-mates have what it takes to go one better at next year’s Challenger Series and win it.
“It’s sad for us. We cried a little bit after the final, but we know we have a strong team,” Koldej told World Rugby. “We played very, very well in this tournament, but I think Japan surprised us a little bit.
“They played very well in all the tournament, we played very well in all the tournament [but] they surprised us because they prepared so well.
“They knew how we play, and they have good players in defence [and] everywhere where they needed them.”
She added: “We know we can do this at the next qualifiers. At the next Challenger Series, it will be our time.
“This time? I don’t know, it wasn’t meant to be.”
Koldej revealed that the squad was “angry on a sporting level” to have lost in Santiago and their defeat to Japan is sure to drive them on in Cape Town next month and beyond.
“We wanted this now, but maybe it wasn’t our time. Japan were better in [Chile], they were more clinical,” she said.
“Maybe we need more time on the World Series, maybe we can play with better teams. But now I think we are prepared for this; at the next Challenger Series it will be our time.
“Next time I don’t see a team who can win against us.”
Poland’s players were allowed a couple of days off following their return from Chile, but attention has already turned to their next assignment: RWC Sevens 2022.
Koldej and Co. have been drawn against the USA in the round of 16 in Cape Town. Poland were beaten 31-7 by the same opposition at the Series event in Malaga in January, and know a repeat would end their RWC Sevens hopes on day one.
“USA is a very strong opponent,” Koldej said. “It’s hard to play with them but I think since the World Series we have trained very hard, we’ve played in the European Championships with France, with Ireland, against experienced teams.
“We had a camp with France in May, so we really worked hard this year. Maybe the final in the Challenger Series was not good for us, but we have hope we can win against the USA.
“It will be very, very hard for us, I know that. They play very good [rugby], they are a strong team [and] we lost against them last time, but we lost against other teams too.
“Every time we go to win. Every time. And so, we have hope, all the time.”
Just how much that hard work has helped the team improve will become clear in Cape Town on 9 September.
Koldej knows beating the USA to reach the quarter-finals would be a huge achievement for Poland in their first RWC Sevens. Anything beyond that would be a dream come true.
Having beaten Canada on their Series debut in Malaga and won a maiden European Championship already in 2022, though, Koldej and her team-mates know anything is possible in sevens.
“I have hope we will be in the top eight, that’s enough for me, and I think every place under eighth would be very, very successful for us,” she said.
“We will be the first [Polish] team at the World Cup in our history… and if we will be in the [quarter-finals] it will be very successful for us. If we [finish] under eighth, it will be something incredible.”
Koldej added: “A country that does not have a long history in rugby sevens will play at the World Cup, we won the European championship, so if we will be in the top eight it will be something incredible for us.”