England women's Sevens name team for HK
England have joined pool opponents Japan in announcing their squad to compete in the second IRB Women’s Sevens Challenge Cup in Hong Kong from March 23-24.
Eight players who helped England reach the final of the inaugural Sevens Challenge Cup in Dubai in December are recalled, while the likes of 2009 World Cup Sevens players, Heather Fisher and Alice Richardson, return from injury. Michaela Staniford will captain the side, joined by Rachael Burford, Isabelle Noel Smith and Georgina Roberts, who have all been crucial in England’s RBS 6 Nations campaign this season.
“Selection for Hong Kong has been very difficult with so many players in contention," said England Sevens head coach, Barry Maddocks. "We have retained a core group of players to ensure we have consistency within our game whilst it’s also nice to welcome back players with so much experience, like Rachel Burford, Alice Richardson and Heather Fisher.”
12 teams will compete in the Hong Kong Women’s Sevens Challenge Cup with Canada, England, Australia and the USA the top four seeds respectively. Olympic Games 2016 hosts Brazil, Asian Women’s Sevens champions China, the Netherlands and Dubai Plate winners Spain are seeded five to eight. Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 hosts Russia, Japan, Hong Kong and Tunisia complete the line-up.
England have been drawn in Pool B and will face Japan and China in the initial stages.
England women's Sevens squad: Rachael Burford, Abigail Chamberlain, Heather Fisher, Sonia Green (VC), Sarah Guest, Isabelle Noel-Smith, Alice Richardson, Leanne Riley, Georgina Roberts, Michaela Staniford (C), Lydia Thompson, Joanne Watmore
Japan women set bold Sevens fitness target
Japan's women training on the beach in Katsu-ura in the run-up to the IRB Women's Sevens Challenge Cup in Hong Kong. Photo: JRFU
At the end of an intensive 5-day selection camp in Katsu-ura, at which the focus was fitness, 12 players have been selected by the Japan Rugby Football Union to compete at the upcoming IRB Women’s Sevens Challenge Cup in Hong Kong.
There they will compete in Pool B against England and China and are bidding to prove that they are among the fittest women's Sevens players in the world.
The first session at the training camp kicked off each day at 6am on the beach and the focus over the week was fitness and breakdown skills, running, hitting and tackling.
“Fitness is the key to our success," explained Japan women’s Sevens coach, Keiko Asami. "Our target is to become the world’s fittest team. We now have strong confidence that we have run more than anyone.
"Players must be physically and mentally tougher because the Sevens is a very tough sport. So since last June, we have worked to build the physical base of the squad.”
Even though the Japanese lost all five of their matches at the USA Rugby Women’s International Invitational in Las Vegas last month, Asami is very positive about the future of the team. “We could physically compete with big teams like the United States at breakdowns, that was a big improvement. Now we can proceed to the next level and look at players’ performance," he said.
This wasn’t first time the Japan's women had been subjected to a unique training method. Before going to Las Vegas, they passed through Japan’s Self-Defense Force’s 'boot-camp' programme. At the Japan Ground SDF base in Narashino City, Chiba Prefecture, players exchanged their rugby kit for military-style uniforms and spent three days waking up at 5:30am, straining under heavy loads for up to six hours and undergoing the infamous paratrooper tower training.
“It’s a test of your true character whether you’re able to maintain your composure and make a right decision under strong pressure," said JRFU’s high performance manager, Kensuke Iwabuchi.
"Our players have never experienced a huge amount of pressure like that of the Olympic Games. You can’t get them mentally prepared for it through normal rugby trainings.”
In the squad for the Hong Kong event, there are two new inclusions, Megumi Ebihara and Yumeno Hiratsuka. Ebihara is an import from volleyball and, not surprisingly, is the tallest player in the squad. At 1.77m, Asami expects her to bring physicality to her team. Hiratsuka is a former track and field athlete, whose pace could give another dimension.
Japan Women Sevens squad: Tsukasa TSUJIMOTO; Yuka KANEMATSU; Mateitoga BOGIDRAUMAINADAVE; Akari FUJISAKI; Megumi EBIHARA; Chiharu NAKAMURA; Keiko KATO; Ayaka SUZUKI; Capt); Misaki SUZUKI; Chisato YOKOH; Noriko TANIGUCHI; Yumeno HIRATSUKA