IRB Women's Sevens Rugby: Houston, We Have a Winner
The 2013 IRB Women's Sevens tour completed its first ever official stop in North America last weekend, and the message to be taken away from that tournament is clear.
England has the best women's sevens rugby team on the planet right now. Period.
Fuelled by the intense physicality and raw power of stars like Heather Fisher and Jo Watmore, England ran the increasingly competitive gauntlet presented by their world rugby rivals and emerged as champions of the inaugural Houston Sevens event.
That England are not currently ranked as the number one team in the world is an ironic illusion, created by that nation's fierce desire to be the best at every version of the game.
In early December, when the English sent a young sevens development team to the first leg of the IRB Women's Series in Dubai, it was because the Rugby Football Union (RFU) had decided to prioritize their VX's series in London, against the New Zealand Black Ferns.
That gamble paid off, as Fisher, Watmore and their England teammates sent the defending Women's World Cup champs packing, defeating them in three straight contests.
By contrast, the understrength English women's sevens side suffered heavily in Dubai, as they were left to the mercy of the half-dozen world class nations, such as New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, that had brought their starting rosters to that tournament.
England's managers may well have been surprised by their team's 7th place finish in Dubai, but if so, they made sure that their Sevens program would not lack firepower when the series reconvened in Houston.
England head coach Gary Street said the decisions were part of a four-year strategy aimed at prioritizing certain events over others.
What we are trying to do is win the Sevens World Cup. I think the momentum of us winning it would be a huge step for us to kick on.
It is a very realistic goal. The squad is incredibly strong and the confidence of beating New Zealand in the autumn was a huge boost, especially the way we did it. We didn't just out-work them but our skill level in most aspects was superior.
We could split them but we wouldn't give ourselves the best chance to win both World Cups
Unlike their male counterparts, England's women do not have a deep enough player pool to have specialists in both forms of the game, so they must utilize their 48-player depth chart elite play to cover events in either code.
When Street's newly strengthened sevens team arrived in Texas, they were on a mission. England are the defending series champions and they knew that their title defence has taken a hit with the low finish in December.
The English women sailed through their first two pool matches on day one, before edging out New Zealand by a score of 7-5 to finish Friday with a perfect record.
It was then that England's coaches unleashed Jo Watmore, who had been rested all throughout the first day of competition. With Watmore and Fisher leading the way, their squad downed the Netherlands, New Zealand and then the United States in the Grand Final to walk out the winners.
Perhaps more worrisome for the women's rugby world is that the English XV's team, which was competing in the RBS Women's 6 Nations without their Sevens stars, went on to defeat a full-strength Scotland team by a score of 76-0.
It will take something very special for the world's other women's rugby stars to knock off any England team at the moment.
Their next opportunity to do so on the IRB Sevens Series will be on March 30th—when the competition makes its way to China.
Jeff Hull is a contributor with Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @RugbyScribe
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