Burford now hungry for Olympic glory
England's World Cup winner Rachael Burford hopes to inspire the next generation of girls by winning Olympic gold with Team GB in Rio.
England coach Simon Middleton has recalled Rachael Burford (pictured) and Kay Wilson for the penultimate round of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series at the Twickenham Stoop on 15-16 May.
Burford missed the last round of the series in Canada due to injury while Wilson will make her first start of the series having also been side-lined with injuries all season. Burford and Wilson replace Leanne Riley and Sarah McKenna in the squad.
“Experience will be key for this leg of the series and both Rachael and Kay, who are experienced sevens players and also World Cup winners, offer us that,” said Middleton. “Both Leanne and Sarah did a good job in Canada but these players will give us all round experience across the park and will balance up the squad nicely.
“It is also great to welcome Kay into the tournament squad. She has been so unlucky with injuries this season but she has been training really well and showed such positivity throughout the year.”
London will make its World Series debut next week, with all of the action at the Twickenham Stoop before the third place play-off and the final is staged at Twickenham after the climax of day one of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
The tournament has extra significance for the hosts though as England still have work to do to secure a top four finish in the series which would ensure automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympic Games. England are currently sixth in the series standings - although only 12 points separate second from seventh - with the final round in Amsterdam on 22-23 May.
“Having the World Series here in our own back yard is going to be a great occasion,” added Middleton. “We are looking forward to showing the English public first-hand what Sevens World Series rugby is all about.
“At the same time though, it is really important we prepare as normally as possible. Our full attention must be about getting our performance right which is what we did in Canada and we finished third there. We know we need to get to the semi-finals again, and finish above our nearest rivals but we can’t lose our performance focus.
"First and foremost we’ll be concentrating on South Africa for game one, and we’ll continue to take it one game at a time, with Russia next and then Canada.”
Canada coach John Tait welcomes back captain Jen Kish, Mandy Marchak and Magali Harvey for the final two rounds of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2014-15 in London and Amsterdam.
Kish and Marchak both missed the last round of the series on home soil in Langford in April through injury, while World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year 2014 Harvey has not featured for Canada since Dubai last November.
“Kish has an array of skills and I'm excited as she can make the players around her better,” said Tait. “She generates a lot of positive turnovers on kick-offs and in the tackle.
“Conversely, she really has been looking after the ball this season and helps create space for others in attack with her skill sets.”
While the return of Kish is a huge boost for Canada’s aspirations of securing Olympic qualification, one notable absentee is Kelly Russell, a player who has not missed a single series event but will be sidelined by injury until the Pan American Games on home soil in Toronto in July.
“She is a massive loss for us with her being so solid on winning restarts and maintaining possession with her excellent ball skills,” said Tait. “Having Kish back will certainly help but it will also give some others like Karen Paquin, Sara Kaljuvee, Bianca Farella and Hannah Darling more opportunity to show they can provide the same as well.
“Magali has been working really hard at improving all areas of her game, particular her decisions with the ball and work rate off it. She is in good form right now and she will give us more speed options out wide and at sweep.”
Canada failed to reach the Cup semi-finals in Langford – the first time that has happened since February 2003 – but recovered to win the Plate to remain second in the standings behind New Zealand.
However, with only 12 points separating Canada in second from Russia in 10th, the race to secure a top four place and qualification for rugby sevens’ debut at Rio 2016 is going to be fiercely contested.
“Within all the tournaments you need to account for the physicality and opposition strengths in your pool by having a balance of skill sets among the 12 players to compete for the ball and turn possession to points,” said Tait, whose side will face hosts England, Russia and South Africa in Pool B in London.
“I like the back-to-back tournaments because I feel it favours the best prepared teams, both physically and technically.
“We are confident this group has all the tools required to win in London and can take us another step closer to Olympic qualification.”
Canada squad: Elissa Alarie, Britt Benn, Hannah Darling, Bianca Farella, Magali Harvey, Sara Kaljuvee, Jennifer Kish (captain), Ghislaine Landry, Mandy Marchak, Kayla Moleschi, Karen Paquin, Ashley Steacy, Natasha Watcham-Roy.
Zaandre Theron and Nosiphiwo Goda return to an extended 14-strong South Africa squad who face the challenge of back-to-back tournaments for the first time in London and Amsterdam.
Both players missed the Canada Sevens in Langford last month but will add some experience to a squad that faces a tough pool with England, Canada and Russia all in contention for a top four place and qualification for the Olympic Games.
“We would have liked to take along two young players to experience a World Series event first-hand, but with the risk of injuries being high as we are playing two tournaments in a row, it was important to opt for experience and form,” said Dazel.
“Zaandre returned to the Springbok Sevens set-up for the first time since 2012 at the Atlanta Sevens and she made a good impression with her strong runs and never-say-die attitude, while Nosiphiwo has been a stalwart for us, so it is good to welcome them back.
“Given the competition for places in the squad it will be tough to select only 12 players for each tournament.
“The players have been working hard at training since we reassembled last week and they are in a good frame of mind going into the last two tournaments, so hopefully they can transfer that onto the field.
“We were pleased with the strides we made on attack and defence in Canada and we would like to build on that in England and Amsterdam. But this will require being ready for the challenge both mentally and physically.
“That said there are only two tournaments left on the circuit and we would like to finish the season on a competitive note, so we will give everything we have on the field.”
Springbok Women’s squad: Sunelle Barnard, Lorinda Brown, Kirsten Conrad, Phumeza Gadu, Rachelle Geldenhuys, Nosiphiwo Goda, Veroeshka Grain, Zenay Jordaan (captain), Jacqueline Kriel, Sinazo Nobele, Marithy Pienaar, Fundiswa Plaatjie, Mathrin Simmers, Zaandre Theron.