We caught up with World Rugby Sevens commentator Willie Lose who gave us the run down on the third round of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series in Las Vegas.
The standard of women’s sevens keeps on getting better and better and we have just been treated to a fantastic tournament at the HSBC USA Sevens. It seems to me that at every series leg we can see more improvements. The players are getting faster, stronger, more skilful, more tactically aware and the overall spectacle that is the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series is enhanced as a result.
And it’s not just the top teams. New Zealand, Australia, USA and Canada are the best sides in the world at the moment for me but they are being challenged now in a way that they haven’t been in recent years.
Russia are stepping up, Spain are making big improvements, Ireland are making their move – beating the Americans in Las Vegas was a huge result for them – but for me the big improvers have been Fiji. They are starting to play with the freedom, style and athleticism that their men are known for and I think it’s only a matter of time before they topple one of the big guns.
The secret to their success has been a change to their training and diet. At this high level, you can’t just turn up and expect to compete. The work that Fiji are putting in before tournaments is really starting to show. We know already that they have the skills to be the best but we now see a fitter, faster Fiji and they are not too far away now.
World Rugby need to be congratulated for developing women’s sevens the way they do and giving these great opportunities for improvements to be made. It’s a great series now, fast-paced and exciting, and it’s helping to make women’s rugby one of the fastest growing sports in the world. For me Portia Woodman is one of the greatest athletes in the world across all sports and some of the other players are not far behind. Let’s promote them like other sports do and turn them into superstars.
Speaking of Woodman, in Vegas, the stand-out team was New Zealand. They are on a roll at the moment – they really want to get back to that number-one perch. Losing the series last year and the Olympic gold medal in Rio to Australia hurt them and they want to make amends. Coach Allan Bunting has come in and is making a big difference. He is a very inclusive coach and relies on his senior players to help make decisions. He respects their input and it seems to be working.
While they still have some experienced heads in the squad, like Sarah Goss, Portia Woodman and Niall Williams, but crucially the Black Ferns Sevens are blooding some new talent. The emergence of Michaela Blyde, Alena Faalogoifo Saili and Terina Lily Te Tamaki is part of their success.
That said, it’s all very close at the top. On any given day, there are two or three teams that can beat New Zealand and that is why this series is so compelling. Australia are also bringing through some good younger players while also hanging on to the likes of Sharni Williams, Ellia Green and Charlotte Caslick. I thought Emilee Cherry was brilliant in Las Vegas.
Canada have a great balance in the team, too. Leaders like Jen Kish, Ghislaine Landry and Bianca Farella are complemented by some serious talent around them, none more so than, for me their most influential player at the moment, Britt Benn. She scored six tries in Las Vegas and was just brilliant. Sure Landry gets the tries and Kish is there to help with the turnovers but Benn is developing into a fantastic all-round sevens player in attack and defence.
Another stand-out player from the USA Sevens for me was Ireland’s Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe but her name is a commentator’s nightmare. By the time you’ve said it, she’s already scored!
So New Zealand came out on top in the US but looking ahead to the next stage in Kitakyushu, Japan, I don’t think they’ll have it all their own way, I don’t think they’ll dominate. It’s a new leg on the series and it’s going to be great. I lived and played in Japan for seven years and it’s a wonderful place but it will take the players a little time to adapt to the culture, the food and playing in this beautiful stadium.
The Japanese rugby fans will come out to support in big numbers and above all they can expect another fantastic display of world-class sporting action in the Land of the Rising Sun.