Netherlands keen to secure World Cup dream

(IRB.COM) Friday 22 May 2009

 Netherlands keen to secure World Cup dream
Kelly van Harskamp scored seven tries against Belgium - Photo: Fredrik Wicksell /

Scotland may go into their Pool A decider with Netherlands at the European Trophy on Saturday as favourites to claim the place at Women's Rugby World Cup 2010, but the Dutch are quietly confident they can spring another surprise in Sweden by emerging victorious.

The eight-team European Trophy has already spring a couple of surprises with hosts Sweden stunning first Six Nations side Italy 16-14 and then Spain - a participant at the last Women's Rugby World Cup in Canada - 11-6 to confirm their qualification for England 2010.

If the Netherlands were to beat upset the other Six Nations side in the competition, then they will join Sweden, 2006 Women's Rugby World Cup runners-up England, bronze medallists France and Ireland and Wales, the latter two having qualified through the RBS Women's Six Nations 2009 as Europe's representatives.

Gareth Gilbert, the Netherlands coach and former Botswana international and coach, knows his side have the belief and promises that they will not be sitting back and simply hoping to defend and keep Scotland at bay with both sides having not conceded a point thus far.

"We are very confident we can complete the job. We have the players, we have a very strong team spirit and we are now really looking forward to Saturday," explained Gilbert. "We can qualify, we know we can. We certainly won't be standing back!"

This is hardly surprising when Gilbert has in his squad a player who has the ability to destroy sides, wing Kelly van Harskamp having scored 10 of her side's 22 tries in their two matches so far in Sweden - the 100-0 defeat of Belgium and 34-0 victory over Russia.

'Where's Kelly?'

Van Harskamp has, in her own words, always scored a lot of tries and her teammates are understandably keen to get the ball into her hands whenever possible, joking after the Russian match that they always look for her and ask "where's Kelly?".

Her teammates describe her as "tough" and this was perhaps honed from the fact that Van Harskamp played with her local boy's team until she was 19 because there was no junior girl's team, having played rugby from the age of seven, following her mother and father into the sport.

Van Harskamp thinks the most tries she had previously scored in a single match was probably six in another match against Belgium, but her seven-try haul is one few men - if at all any women - can better in international rugby. It also came as something of a surprise to her.

"I just get the ball and always go for the try, I am always thinking to score when I get the ball, just go for it," explained the 21-year-old. "I always feel under pressure to score and at 100-0 I would be expected to score the most tries.

"During the match I didn't realise how many tries I scored. At half time I had scored just two tries. I was not at all satisfied with that. I didn't know I had scored seven until teammates told me at the end of the match."

Nothing is impossible

Van Harskamp was a member of the Dutch squad at the inaugural Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai back in March and both she and her coach Gilbert acknowledge the abbreviated version of the game has made her a better 15-a-side player and even more of a threat to the opposition.

"Dubai was amazing and I learned a lot from that. The training and fitness really helped me. Sevens is so fast and there is so much space to cover - it made 15s easier! In Sevens there is a lot of pressure. You have to make every tackle. I am not as nervous since, I can handle pressure better and that has made a difference in this tournament."

Gilbert added: "A player like Kelly is very valuable to us. I think she is one of the best players in the world. She is an all round player always looking for work. The Sevens has made a big difference to her development. She is now a more all round player with great individual strength."

Of course scoring seven tries against Belgium and a hat-trick against Russia means she is no longer an unknown quantity for Scotland, but that does not face Van Harskamp who admits "this is a big pressure for me, they will be watching me know, but I can handle it".

"We are also positive about beating Scotland. If we play our best we can do it. We know we have it in us. This is the best Netherlands team ever. We feel like a team, we are very close and connected.

"Qualifying would be the best thing ever. It would show people what we can do … nothing is impossible."

Van Harskamp may only be in the early stages of her international career, but her try scoring exploits have not gone unnoticed by Scotland flanker Donna Kennedy, who will win her 103rd cap in the pool decider and admits "the number 14 is very fast and is a threat" with the Dutch strength "being in their backs".

Scotland's best play ever

Kennedy made the "difficult decision" to come out of international retirement to help Scotland try to qualify for Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 after failing to be one of the best two sides in the Six Nations outside of already qualified England and France, a decision she doesn't regret with the rugby her side have been playing in Sweden.

"The way the team is playing is the most satisfying thing. Our game is now expansive and very exciting. This is the best play Scotland have ever put in place. We are playing like any world class team," insisted Kennedy, whose side have beaten Russia 84-0 and Belgium 71-0.

"It is a really great environment and we are playing very exciting rugby so I am happy with the decision [to come back]. Our goal was three wins in this tournament, two down and we are now totally focused on the Netherlands match.

"We have to qualify for the World Cup. It just wouldn't be the same without Scotland. Most of the team are young and have not been to a World Cup, that goes for the coaching team also. They are determined to get to London in 2010. Saturday is massive, we have to qualify, but we will do it - all the work put in is for this."

Scotland head coach Jamie Dempsey added: "Defence is going to be key in this game as both sides will have to hold their own against very attack-minded opposition.

"It's a cup final in effect. We know we're going to have to deserve the victory - nobody's going to give it to us. But the girls are very focused on the challenge ahead. I'm confident, the girls are playing well."

The other matches on Saturday will see Russia tackle Belgium in Enkoping, while Sweden look for a clean sweep with victory over Germany and both Spain and Italy keen to bounce back from the disappointment of their Women's Rugby World Cup dreams ending with victory in Stockholm.