PHILADELPHIA, PA – Last season, the USA Women’s 7s squad did what needed to be done: They qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Rugby 7s at the Olympics gets underway on August 6, and the USA Women should be strong medal contenders.
The first tournament of the season is in Dubai December 3 and 4. Here is what you need to be ready for the season and Olympic build up.
- Dubai, December 3-4
- Sao Paulo, February 20-21
- Atlanta, April 8-9
- Langford (Ontario), April 16-17
- Olympics, August 6-11
The World Rugby tournaments will all be streamed on WorldRugby.org. World Rugby has said there will be more tournaments announced. Let’s hope so.
During last season’s World Series, the USA finished tied for 4th but did not win any tournaments. New Zealand, Canada, and Australia finished in the top 3, and England shared the 4th spot with the USA. The USA had a chance to book their place at Rio in Amsterdam, the last World Series tournament last spring, but let that chance go. They beat New Zealand in pool play, but then lost to Canada in a match that would have sealed their Olympic spot. Then they lost to England in a winner-goes-to-Rio scenario. The manner of those losses also stings. The USA gifted 2 tries to Canada in the first half and then lost to England by a point.
They qualified by winning the NACRA 7s in June, beating Mexico in the finals. Canada, because they had already qualified, were not at the tournament. Canada were at the Pan Am games in July where they roasted the US in the gold medal game, 55-7.
As of right now, Canada has the number of the USA squad. The USA has shown they can play with anyone, but they haven’t shown the killer instinct against the top sides. Perhaps that is why there was a coaching change and Jules McCoy is now in charge.
The squad has a solid core of players. That core, plus others, are in the residency program at Chula Vista. (Full list of residency athletes is below.) Hopefully, this means that the women will have the full chance to go into all of these tournaments (and others?) with the fitness and preparation of professionals.
Kelly Griffin is the kind of solid, hard working captain a good side needs. Other players likely to be important this season include Alev Kelter who provides the side with a good chance to win ball at restarts. Though not the tallest player, Kathryn Johnson consistently provides a good chase to win those balls.
Players like Lauren Doyle and Victoria Folayan – 3rd on last season’s try scoring list – offer strong attacking threats. Bui Baravilala is an above-average kicker of conversions and is also a frequent distributor. Her passes from rucks tend to be quite good. However, when she is in the first receiver position from scrums, the ball seems slow in getting wide.
In general, the USA has a tendency to play narrow. They are not necessarily more physical than the other top sides, so this can lead to dangerous turnovers or errors.
During this season, if they are aiming for a medal, the squad as a whole will need to develop more confidence in their ability to play with width. Connected to that width is the need for more squad pace. While someone to burn 80 meters in attack, like Australia’s Emma Tonegato, would be a luxury, more pace on defense seems a necessity. Kristen Thomas often appeared to be the fastest player in defense. After she made a tackle or was caught up in a breakdown, USA seemed especially vulnerable.
With some more width in attack and team pace in defense, Cup Semi-Finals for every tournament and Bronze at Rio seem realistic goals. If the squad develops the killer instinct and some of the new athletes at Chula Vista show themselves ready for world-class competition, playing in the Gold Medal Match is not too much to dream of.
As an Example…
Here is a passage of play from the Cup Semi-Final in Amsterdam against Canada which shows both strength and weakness. The weakness is in the narrowness of the attack. The strength is in the ball retention and work rate.
First, notice how close to the breakdown the player, Griffin, is in the first receiver position. She has no real option other than running straight at the defense, which is what she does.
Here is another phase from the same passage with the same basic situation. This time it is Thomas getting the ball and attacking straight ahead.
And another with Baravilala taking the ball up. In the still below, you can see 6 of the US players are in a pretty tight area. The defense is not being stretch, and the options in attack are limited.
When the ball is moved toward space, it is by a player, Megan Bonny, running toward the space. She doesn’t pass the ball early or attack the defensive line; she runs laterally.
However, the US support is better than the Canadian support. The US win the ball at the breakdown and Bonny scores the try.
The US does a lot right in that passage, in terms of winning the breakdowns and being patient. None of the Canadian players have gotten to the “far” side of the breakdown while 3 Americans have. That’s serious hustle and fitness. On the other hand, that try was a lot of work and they were quite a few moments when things were close to going wrong.
These athletes have every chance to end up winning a medal for the USA in rugby. However, there is a lot of work still to do to get there.
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