England Rugby has awarded 17 women’s sevens contracts for the upcoming 2018/19 season.
The women’s squad will move from its present base at Bisham Abbey to join the men’s set-up at The Lensbury in Teddington from 1 September. This will provide both the men’s and women’s squads the opportunity to share facilities and best practice.
Nine of those named for this season featured in England’s bronze medal-winning Commonwealth Games squad earlier this year, eight of whom then went on to represent England in the Rugby World Cup Sevens alongside Holly Aitchison, who had been unavailable for Commonwealth selection due to injury.
Emily Scarratt, Heather Fisher, Natasha Hunt, Abbie Brown and Claire Allan bring a wealth of experience to the squad, having also represented Team GB in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. They are joined by fellow Commonwealth bronze medallists Megan Jones, who travelled to Rio as a non-playing reserve, Alex Matthews, Deborah Fleming and Jess Breach.
There are seven new names included in the squad. Among these is 18-year-old Ellie Kildunne, who makes the transition from 15s, having scored nine tries in eight appearances for the Red Roses last season.
Lizzie Adam and Celia Quanash made their England debuts in the first leg of the 2018 Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Grand Prix Series in Marcoussis, France earlier in the summer and are among the new recruits.
Emma Uren, who captained England Women U20 earlier this year in the side’s first victory over France, Abi Burton, Emma Hardy and Helena Rowland have all progressed through the performance pathway to the squad having represented England in age grade teams.
England Women Sevens head coach James Bailey said: “There’s a real excitement about the squad and confidence in this talented group of players. What we have looked at is bringing together a group who will allow us to play a unique style of sevens. While we have a number of experienced names, we have some talented athletes who started their sporting careers outside of rugby.
“There are a huge number of positive opportunities that await us this season, especially as we move to the Lensbury where we will be able to share best practice between ourselves and the men’s team, building on the existing links and creating a closer alliance between the two squads.”
With the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series increased to six rounds this season, the Series will start with a new first leg in Colorado on 20-21 October. Qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games takes place this season and as with Rio 2016, England is the nominated nation to qualify Team GB for Tokyo 2020.
Bailey added: “This season is going to be a huge but incredible challenge and is undoubtedly going to be the most competitive season yet in the women’s game. Our priority is Olympic qualification, and while there’s still a lot of work to be done, we know what’s required and we’re fully embracing it.”
Reflecting on England’s ninth place finish in the Rugby World Cup Sevens, where England won the Challenge trophy, he said: “We knew what we had to do going into the World Cup and failed to deliver. There were a number of challenges last season which we will look to address. We had a number of injuries which made it difficult to keep the squad consistent. We will be working hard to try to mitigate this as well as build on the many positives we took away from the year.”
Elsewhere, Vicky Fleetwood, Olivia Jones, Katie Mason, Sarah McKenna, Chantelle Miell, Emily Scott, Kelly Smith, Lydia Thompson, Amy Wilson Hardy and Millie Wood have left England Women’s Sevens with Bailey adding: “We’d like to thank those who have left the programme for their contribution to the programme and wish them the very best for the future.”
Five of the 17 players will continue their studies alongside rugby commitments. Ellie Kildunne (St Mary’s University, Twickenham), Lizzie Adam (Loughborough University), Emma Hardy (Loughborough University), Helena Rowland (Loughborough University) and Emma Uren (St Mary’s University, Twickenham) will all study part-time as well as taking up squad contracts.
England Women’s Sevens Squad
Lizzie Adam*, Holly Aitchison, Claire Allan, Jess Breach, Abbie Brown, Abi Burton*, Heather Fisher, Deborah Fleming, Emma Hardy*, Natasha Hunt, Megan Jones, Ellie Kildunne*, Alex Matthews, Celia Quansah*, Helena Rowland*, Emily Scarratt, Emma Uren*
*new to squad
Courtesy of the RFU