England’s experience, power and precision proved too much for first time Cup finalists, the Netherlands, as the hosts eased to a 34-7 victory in the IRB Women’s Sevens Challenge Cup at Twickenham this weekend.
England have now won two of the three IRB-sanctioned Challenge Cup events this season, having defeated Australia in the previous final in Hong Kong and losing out to Canada in the first event in Dubai.
The Netherlands’ Anne Hielckert opened the scoring in the Twickenham final to momentarily quiet the crowd, but England’s Hong Kong heroine Joanne Watmore combined power and balance to pierce the Netherlands’ defence twice before Alice Richardson produced a step and hand off to put England 17-7 up at the break.
Watmore completed her hat trick with the first play of the second half to dash any hopes of a Netherlands comeback before Kat Merchant touched down twice late on to complete an impressive victory.
“We came out in the semi final and had a really tough game (against Canada),” said England captain Michaela Staniford. “We made it hard work for ourselves and we didn’t perform, so coming out for the final and putting to bed some of those wrongs and hopefully putting on a show for the crowd was what we really wanted to do.”
For Netherlands coach Gareth Gilbert, whose players are full-time athletes funded by the Dutch Olympic Committee, the final was a promising step forward.
“You’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far with regards to the (Dutch) programme. The progress we’ve seen in the last year with these players has been unbelievable. A lot of these ladies have stopped their jobs and their family lives in order to train and play rugby. They train 20 hours a week, which they need to if we are going to compete with the big nations,” Gilbert said.
Dramatic route to Cup final
Before playing each other in the final, England and the Netherlands both faced some worthy opposition earlier in the day in the Cup quarter and semi finals.
In the quarter finals England faced Russia and the Netherlands faced France. England defeated Russia 19-10 and Netherlands triumphed over France 19-0.
Later in the day, the Cup semi finals produced two dramatic matches. England Sevens debutant Emily Scarratt (crossing over from the England 15s) scored the decisive try in extra time to edge the hosts to a 19-12 win over Canada. Then the Netherlands produced arguably the shock of the competition, edging RWC Sevens 2009 champions Australia 14-12.
Canada claimed third place with a 19-14 victory over Australia. USA won the Plate, defeating Russia 22-7. South Africa, for whom Zenay Jordaan was the tournament’s highest points scorer with 43, edged past France 14-7 to end up seventh. China defeated Portugal 43-5 to win the Bowl and Kazakhstan prevailed 19-17 over Brazil in the battle for 11th place.
This weekend’s Marriott London Sevens saw the highest caliber of women’s sevens athletes take the stage at Twickenham. With the record turnout, this was a real opportunity to showcase what women’s rugby sevens is all about and we are happy to report that the ladies did not let us down. We hope this will be the first of many years where we will see the women’s teams play alongside the mens at Twickenham.
Watch a short video including an interview with England Captain Michaela Staniford here: