IRB Women's Challenge Cup: 2011/12 look back

(IRB.COM) Friday 19 October 2012
 IRB Women's Challenge Cup: 2011/12 look back
England's Michaela Staniford was voted the women's Sevens player of the 2011/12 Challenge Cup events

Across the 2011/12 season, with plans for the inaugural IRB Women's Sevens World Series well underway, three individual Challenge Cup events gave the teams a chance to sample life at the elite level.

Dubai hosted the first of the events, Hong Kong the second and London staged the third and final event and all three provided compelling evidence that the women's Sevens game had mutured in double quick time.

Challenge Cup 1: Dubai

In Dubai Canada's women, captained by the brilliant Mandy Marchak, who produced a display full of pace, power and commitment to beat England 26-7 and claim the first Cup.

The eight-team tournament, played alongside the men's in Dubai, was the first IRB-sanctioned women's Sevens event and was been heralded a key landmark in the evolution of the women's game en route to the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

The Canadians were far too strong for their neighbours and great rivals USA, cruising to a 36-0 win in their semi final, and then withstood England's early pressure before posting a convincing victory. 

Spain followed up victory against China with a fine display to beat a highly competitive South Africa side to win the Plate.

Challenge Cup 2: Hong Kong

England arrived in Hong Kong strengthened and redoubled in their desire to put right the wrongs of Dubai. Captain Michaela Staniford and flying wing, rugby league convert Jo Watmore, were brilliant as they beat Australia 15-10 in a breathless final at the Hong Kong Stadium to take the second Cup title.

Inspired by two tries from Michaela Staniford, England beat the defending women's Hong Kong champions Canada in their semi final and then beat Chris Lane's Australians, who had themselves overpowered USA in the second semi.

Deadlocked at 10-10, the final looked set for extra time, but England worked space for Joanne Watmore to go over for the winner.

In the Plate competition Spain ground out a tight 12-7 win over China. RWC Sevens 2013 hosts Russia beat the Netherlands 5-0 to finish in seventh, and Brazil finished with a win against Hong Kong to end in ninth place and take the Bowl.

Challenge Cup 3: London

Acting as tournament hosts and carrying the favourites' tag after their Hong Kong heroics, England rose to the pressure on home soil to win their second title, at Twickenham.

Their greater power and precision proved too much for first time Cup finalists the Netherlands as the hosts eased to a 34-7 victory in the final.

The Netherlands’ Anne Hielckert opened the scoring in the final but England's Hong Kong heroine Joanne Watmore combined power and balance to pierce the Dutch defence twice before Alice Richardson produced a step and hand off to put England 17-7 up at the break. Watmore completed her hat trick early in second half before Kat Merchant touched down twice late on to complete an impressive victory.

"We came out in the semi final and had a really tough game (against Canada)," said England captain Michaela Staniford. “We made it hard work for ourselves and we didn't perform, so coming out for the final and putting to bed some of those wrongs and hopefully putting on a show for the crowd was what we really wanted to do.”

For Netherlands coach Gareth Gilbert, whose players are full-time athletes funded by the Dutch Olympic Committee, the first final was a promising step forward.

"You’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far with regards to the (Dutch) programme. The progress we’ve seen in the last year with these players has been unbelievable. A lot of these ladies have stopped their jobs and their family lives in order to train and play rugby. They train 20 hours a week, which they need to if we are going to compete with the big nations." Gilbert said.