If you didn’t know them you probably wouldn’t recognise them. If you checked out the clubs they play for, you might think that it was an Irish Squad from the late 1990s. But in a week where our senior national team are getting lessons in how the game can be played and our national soccer team are suffering even more ignominiously at a major championship, the Irish Womens’ Sevens Squad have been achieving the almost impossible.
Less than two months ago, the suits in Lansdowne Road decided to give Irish Womens’ Sevens a real shot at qualifying for the Olympics in Brazil in 2016. It was nothing more than that, almost a shot in the dark!
With the requirement to hit the bull’s eye first time after a foreshortened period of preparation and focus, they have already overcome the first hurdles and jumped onto a wave of momentum which just might end up as the only Irish team, male or female, competing in a field sport in the Olympics 2016.
Since 1 April 2012, the Irish Squad has competed as follows:
- Kinsale Sevens – winners
- London Rugby Rocks Sevens – winners
- Amsterdam Sevens – Plate Trophy winners
- Ghent European Qualifier – winners, (without conceding a try)
After last weekend’s success, Ireland and Wales, the winners in Ghent and Sofia respectively – as well as the two runners-up, Scotland and Croatia – join the top twelve sides in Europe, and will be seeded thirteenth to sixteenth at the qualifier in Moscow [June28th] for a chance to qualify for the RWC Sevens 2013, which also takes place in Russia next year in June 2013.
From the qualifier in Moscow five European places will be available for the 16-team RWC Sevens womens’ event in 2013. Although a major highlight, the Moscow World Cup is just one event in the extended calendar of elite womens’ tournaments, which has already included in the past year the IRB Womens’ Sevens Challenge Cup events in Dubai, Hong Kong and London which are run alongside the HSBC Sevens World Series.
The Mole has long been an enthusiastic supporter of women’s sport in Ireland. First-hand experience of training a women’s hockey team some years ago resulted in the acquisition of the highest regard and respect for the ability of young Irish women to dedicate themselves to an extraordinary degree in the pursuit of sporting success. In recent years, Katie Taylor has confirmed her reputation in Mole Towers as the most dominant Irish athlete in international sport, and the continued success of Irish women athletes is further testament, if any was needed, to the quality of the fairer sex as true competitors.
The Irish Sevens squad numbers about 20 and the selection is narrowed down to 12 or 13 for a tournament. Coached by Jon Skurr, who is the experienced former mens’ Sevens coach from the 2009 World Cup, the current squad is largely based on the 15-a-side group who performed creditably in the recent Six Nations Tournament.
However, Womens’ Sevens at international level has really emerged with a bang over the past 12 months, following the IOC decision to include the sport in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Alongside the traditionally strong rugby nations such as England, Australia, New Zealand, France and the ever improving USA, countries such as Spain, Canada, Russia and the Dutch are targeting substantial resources towards their women’s sevens. “The Orange Project” is one of the most interesting sporting experiments in Europe and is reputed to involve a budget of €1.5m per annum by the Dutch Olympic Committee to qualify their women for the 2016 Games in Brazil.
Facing such competition, the all-amateur Irish women will have a major challenge on their hands, not just on the field, but within their entire lifestyles. Almost certainly the womens’ sevens circuit will grow alongside that of their male counterparts and possibly even faster. Sevens rugby may provide the breakthrough to make international womens’ rugby just as big a television sport as the mens’ game, and the IRB and international broadcasters will both be keen to make this happen in the run-up to Brazil 2016.
Events in Dubai, Las Vegas, London, Hong Kong and Moscow will no doubt be followed by IRB-sanctioned events alongside the existing mens’ game in venues in South Africa and Australia. Such events will require year-round training and a full-time sporting lifestyle. When one examines the spread of locations from which the Irish Squad is drawn, with a large proportion based in English clubs with the support of the Irish Exiles, it is clear that the challenges facing Irish Womens’ Sevens rugby are even more extreme than those which their professional male counterparts might face.
So from Mole Towers, our best wishes and full support are with this superb group of Irish sportswomen. Keep up the hard work and good luck in Moscow.
Irish Squad 2012 [* Ghent Tournament Team]
- *Ashleigh Baxter [Belfast Harlequins/Ulster]
- *Lynne Cantwell [Richmond/Exiles]
- Nicole Caughey [Belfast Harlequins/Ulster]
- *Amy Davis [Blackrock College RFC/Leinster]
- *Jeannette Feighery [UL Bohemians/Munster]
- Shannon Houston [Blackrock College RFC/Leinster]
- Ashling Hutchings [UL Bohemians/Munster]
- *Niamh Kavanagh [UL Bohs / Munster]
- *Claire Keohane [UL / Munster]
- *Alison Millar [Portlaoise / Connacht]
- *Claire Molloy [Bristol/ Exiles/ Connacht]
- Jackie Mulligan [Sligo/Connacht]
- *Jenny Murphy [Richmond / Exiles]
- *Joy Neville [UL / Munster]
- Aine Ni Cathain [Garda / Leinster]
- Mollie O’Donnell [UL / Munster]
- *Laura O’Mahony [Tralee/Munster]
- *Sophie Spence [Sharks / Exiles]
- Beth O’Brien [Oxford / Exiles]
- Rachael Potter [Saracens / Exiles]
- Meadhbh Westwood [Waterloo/Exiles]