Sweden stun Italy in Women's RWC qualifying

(IRB.COM) Monday 18 May 2009

 Sweden stun Italy in Women's RWC qualifying
Sweden snatched victory against Italy with a last minute try - Photo: Magnus Neck

Jennifer Lindholm marked her international debut with the winning try at the death as hosts Sweden came from behind to upset Six Nations side Italy 16-14 on day one of the Women's European Trophy on Sunday.

The try came from an Italian scrum as Sweden stole the ball and the wing ran from her own half, beating three defenders to score by the corner flag with the referee blowing the final whistle after the conversion was missed.

Sweden's narrow victory in Stockholm dents Italy's hopes of finishing top of Pool B and thereby qualifying for the Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 in England along with the Pool A winner.

Only the two pool winners will secure passage to the 12-team tournament and join 2006 runners up England, bronze medal winners France, Ireland and Wales - who both qualified through this year's RBS Women's Six Nations - as Europe's representatives.

Before the European Trophy hosts kicked off in the first of two matches in Stockholm on day one, there was a minute's silence to remember the victims of last month's devastating earthquake in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

Both sides started brightly with Sweden enjoying the perfect start and racing into an 11-0 lead after 20 minutes with captain Ulrika Andersson-Hall kicking two penalties before wing Charlotta Westin-Vines scored the opening try following an Italian fumble.

Promoting the game

Italy hit back with two penalties from the boot of fly half Veronica Schiavon, but despite spending the last 10 minutes of the half camped in the Swedish half they were unable to find a way through the home side's defence.

A high tackle within minutes of the restart allowed Schiavon to cut the deficit to 11-9, but it took Italy until 12 minutes from time to finally find a way through the resolute defence and take the lead for the first time when centre Paola Zangirolami scored following a scrum five-metres from the Swedish line.

Both sides pushed forward, eager to secure the win and it looked as though Italy would do that after a good run from Westin-Vines. However they turned the ball over and gave Lindholm her chance to score the winning try to the delight of the home crowd.

"This was our first home game since 1997 and I have never been so nervous before a match. We knew we stood a good chance with some confidence, but we did not expect to win," admitted Sweden captain Andersson-Hall.

Lars Ohlsson, the Swedish rugby President, added: "We are delighted to host this very important tournament here in Sweden. The coverage from media has been fantastic, and the extra publicity will help us promote the game in Sweden."

"Beating a team like Italy from the Six Nations is a big achievement for the Swedish team, and also very important for the promotion of rugby in Sweden."

Experience key for Spain

Sweden's next match will be against Spain in Enkøping on Wednesday, their opponents having proved too strong for Germany in the other Pool B match, scoring 11 tries to run out 74-0 winners.

Germany defended well, but found attacking opportunities limited against a Spanish side seeking to qualify for a fourth successive Women's Rugby World Cup, having finished ninth overall four years ago in Canada.

Spain opened the scoring inside two minutes with Laura Llado's penalty and by half time their advantage had grown to 34-0 with wing Agurtzane Orrigoro, flankers Bárbara Plá and Paula Medin, centre Ana Rial and scrum half Isabel Rodríguez all crossing for tries.

The second half had barely begun when second row Aitziber Porras scored Spain's sixth try and, after Germany missed with a penalty attempt, the impressive Rial completed her hat-trick before the hour mark.

Flanker Plá, who like Rodríguez played in the last Women's Rugby World Cup in 2006, completed her own hat-trick two minutes from time with Llado also crossing the try-line to take her personal tally for the match to 22 points.

"I am very happy with the result today. The girls played very well. At the moment we will take a lot of positives out of this match, but also concentrate on learning from mistakes," said Spain head coach Inés Etxegibel, who played more than 50 times for her country and played at three Women's Rugby World Cups.

"We have Sweden next. I think their result was a total surprise, but we will start focusing on that match later. For the moment we concentrate on learning from the match we just played."

Scotland lay down marker

Meanwhile in Enkøping, the other tournament venue, both Scotland and Netherlands enjoyed comfortable opening victories over Russia (84-0) and Belgium (100-0) respectively.

Scotland, the only other one of the eight teams in the European Trophy to have played at the last Women's RWC besides Spain, enjoyed a more commanding victory than people had predicted against Russia as they ran in 14 tries.

Cara D'Silva and Donna Kennedy - in her 101st cap after coming out of international retirement - scored tries in the first 10 minutes with Laura Steven, Susie Brown, Tanya Griffith, Lucy Millard (2), Lana Blyth and Suzi Newton also crossing as Scotland went in leading 55-0 at half-time.

Scotland continued their relentless attack, with the forwards playing fast, off-loading rugby and linking well with the backs, in the second half and were rewarded with further tries for Veronica Fitzpatrick, D'Silva, Brown and replacements Erin Kerr and Louise Moffat.

"The fact that we turned up, played well, posted a big score and lay down a marker was really encouraging," said head coach Jamie Dempsey. "We had set ourselves the task of imposing ourselves on the game and we took that to the field. They [Russia] had to step up to our intensity and

No let up for Scotland

"They [Russia] had to step up to our intensity and experience from the Six Nations and previous World Cups as we certainly didn't lower our performance at any stage. We got on top early, we were quite ruthless and really pressed home that advantage right the way through the whole match.

"We were far more physical in the contact area, we had greater accuracy and we had a greater awareness of what we were collectively trying to do as a group - and that was the real difference between the two teams from early on."

Scotland's next match will be against Belgium in Stockholm on Wednesday, a side who will be keen to bounce back from the disappointment of their heavy loss to the Netherlands and one that Dempsey insists Scotland will not take lightly.

"We have to go into the Belgium game with confidence. We have to make sure that we perform to the levels that we set and that we don't take them lightly because they'll be hurting after being on the wrong end of quite a high score.

"It's really important that we turn up and set our standards. We set them high today and that's something we're looking to carry on for the rest of the tournament."

Seven-try hero for Netherlands

The other Pool A match was an equally high-scoring affair with Netherlands wing Kelly van Harskamp grabbing the headlines with her seven-try haul in the 100-0 victory over Belgium.

The Dutch, with a few players from their RWC Sevens squad lining up, did not look back after Wikke Tuinhout scored the opening try in the first minute with Van Harskamp, centres Dorien Eppink and Pien Selbeck and prop Sylke Haverkorn crossing to give them a 29-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Belgium battled hard and restricted Netherlands to only two further tries through Van Harskamp and flanker Linda Franssen touching down to trail 43-0 at half-time.

There was no let up after the break with Van Harskamp scoring twice in the first three minutes as the Netherlands surpassed the half century. Tries from full back Elke van Meer, Franssen and the free-scoring wing stretched that advantage to 72-0 by the hour mark.

Van Harskamp was not finished at five tries, scoring another double in three minutes before Franssen completed her hat-trick with fly half Loraine Laros kicking the conversion to take her personal tally to 20 and bring up the century of points with three minutes remaining.