Houston 7s Starts Big Year for Women's Rugby in the US
Last weekend was a historic weekend for women's rugby. The first-ever, stand-alone Women's IRB 7s Tournament was held in Houston at the beautiful BBVA stadium. This is the first year of the IRB Women's 7s series, which is part of the plan to help make the 2016 Olympics a great success for rugby. The first stop for the women was in Dubai, but that event is paired with the long-standing men's tournament. In the Dubai tournament, New Zealand beat South Africa in the women's final. In Houston, it was the USA Women who showed great determination and skill to beat Australia, I believe for the first time, before losing to England in the final.
Results from the IRB 7s series will determine the seeding for the World Cup. As a result, with the USA making it to the Cup final in Houston, the Women's Eagles moved up in ranking and are in a better position for seeding. Currently, there are 7 teams that all have the chance to beat each other, each having demonstrated a very high level of competition so far. England, New Zealand, Australia, USA, Russia, Holland and South Africa are all competitive, which was seen at both the Dubai and Houston tournaments. The goal of the IRB is to have every team that goes to the Olympics in 2016 be as competitive as possible, and if you add in Spain (who made the semis in Dubai) women's rugby is pretty close.
USA Rugby did a great job with the event even though there was some disappointment with the crowd turnout on Friday. I am one of the few USA Rugby staff who has been around since the first hosting of the Men's IRB 7s stop almost a decade ago. That event had about 3000 fans each day with the wonderful story of the Home Depot Center in LA, running out of beer by noon on Saturday even with the small crowd because they did not understand how much a rugby crowd drinks during a 7s tournament! If you look at the USA 7s now, with over 20,000 on each day in Vegas it is difficult to remember it was not always like this. Houston 7s will grow and it will become a place to be for supporters of USA Rugby.
The USA 7s team certainly used home field advantage with some great performances and great games. Day 1 was inconsistent for USA, with a great comeback against Canada to tie, scoring on the last play to beat South Africa, and getting a strong performance against Argentina to win the pool. The Eagles really had two very strong games on Saturday. They dominated Russia, only leaving it close because of missed conversions, and then really gave Australia no chance to win in the Semis. The only try Australia scored was from a long break from their own line. Other than that, the USA controlled the ball and the game. In the final against England, the USA kept it close through the first half, but in the second half allowed England to pull away.
The overall performance by the USA in Houston shows significant progress since Dubai, but it also shows how close all the teams are. Kicking was a consistent issue for the USA and other teams. It is interesting how important conversions are in the outcomes of the games in 7s, and yet how little we really talk about it as coaches. The USA Men were able to tie England in Wellington on the last play of the game because the England kicker missed a conversion in front of the posts.
Ric Suggitt, the USA Women's 7s coach, and I spent quite a bit of time together in Houston. Ric and I work well together and I have learned a lot from him as a coach. He has been to both the men and women's 15s World Cup with Canada and was also the coach of the Canadian Men's 7s team when the IRB circuit was in its beginning stages. You can see the improvement that Ric is getting with the team and the potential that they show to be able to play with the best. However, the team will need to be more consistent in China at the next stop to make it back to the final and win it.