The second leg of the IRB Women’s Challenge Cup gets underway tonight, and the field is one of the most impressive to date. Pools are only three teams deeps, so every game is a must-win for those looking toward the Cup final.
The Eagles must first get past Spain, which is no easy feat, followed by Tunisia. In Dubai, Spain only lost 12-5 to Australia and 19-14 to Canada – much better margins than the USA. But the Eagles are a different team since December, and they’ve done their homework on Spain.
“Their kickoffs are good,” Eagle 7s center Lauren Hoeck said. “They’re consistently high and 10. Seems like they score, keep their kickoff, and then start getting that momentum to score and score and score.”
If the USA can take away that aspect of Spain’s attack, then they’ll be in good shape. It all begins with props Amy Daniels and Jill Potter, who are super physical and need to come down with the high ball. USA Women 7s coach Ric Suggitt spent some time over the last couple weeks ensuring that proper positioning and support lines ensued.
But you can only do so much to prepare for the opposition, and as any good coach or player will tell you, effort must be placed in solidifying and enforcing one’s own gameplan and making the opposition adjust.
“It’s easier to say with other tours,” Hoeck reflected on needed improvements since Las Vegas, “but I was really happy with how we played in Las Vegas. We were started to click, moving it wide and trusting the second and third phase more. Our defense was solid, we knew our roles better, we were getting cutbacks well – that sort of thing. I think if we continue on with that we’ll improve.”
Suggitt’s excited to see how three of Vegas’ Stars & Stripes players – Jane Paar, Jill Potter (resident) and Kimber Rozier (resident) – will perform alongside their fellow Eagles.
“And moving Lauren into centers has really helped our wings out,” Suggitt said. “She was playing in the forwards with us for the last year and a half, but she’s got some really good ball-in-hand skills and it’s been able to open up the outside for us.”
And once the ball gets out to the “thoroughbreds,” as Suggitt coins his wings, it’s up to Vanesha McGee and Vix Folayan to take it down the sideline.
One factor that will hopefully aid in the USA’s performance is the tournament structure. Last year, the USA struggled to play five games in one day, began the day strongly and then tapered off for losses against Canada and the Netherlands.
For the four pool winners who advance to the Cup bracket, they will only play two games on day one and resume on day two inside Hong Kong Stadium for the semis and final. The rest of the field will finish out the placing rounds on day one, with the Plate Final occurring inside the stadium.
“You get tons of adrenaline, and your hair stands on end,” Hoeck related her experience at RWC Sevens with the atmosphere in Hong Kong. “But once you start playing, you’re playing. The first 15 seconds is really different; then the last 6:45 is all the same.”
Should the USA advance to the Cup semifinals, they will most likely see Australia and then the winner of England v Canada in the final.
“Ultimately, I want to play Canada,” USA Women 7s captain Deven Owsiany said. “We saw Canada in the Las Vegas final, and although we played well, there were a few finishing touches needed. We have a really good squad going to Hong Kong, and I think we’ll be able to put all the pieces together.”
It all has to start with a win against Spain tonight. Stay tuned.
USA Roster vs Spain
1. Amy Daniels
2. Deven Owsiany (c)
3. Jillion Potter
4. Katie Dowty
5. Kimberly Rozier
6. Jane Paar
7. Vanesha McGee
8. Irene Gardner
9. Beth Black
10. Vix Folayan
11. Lauren Hoeck
12. Cristina Mastrangelo