It’s excellent news that England’s 7s players will have a chance of competing in the World Cup as well as the Tokyo Olympics. Sara Orchard (BBC) is the first to confirm this news.
As usual, a simple statement is embedded in a whole heap of uncertainties.
The most obvious – will either of the two great events go ahead as advertised?
If the Olympics fall, then the issue becomes much clearer: the 7s players most suited to the 15s game can safely be considered to join the RWC party.
The key figure here is Nicky Ponsford, the RFU’s Women’s Head of Performance. She will decide which, if any, of the Tokyo-bound players will be offered the twin targets. The opinions of Simon Middleton and his staff will be of prime importance; some of Ponsford’s past judgements have been open to question.
All the fifteen contracted 7s players switched back to clubs for the start of the Premier 15s in October, but only four, Alex Matthews, Ellie Kildunne, Helena Rowland and Meg Jones, were picked for the three autumn tests. Others came into training squads, but no further.
Ponsford emphasises the huge strain to be placed on players should they undertake the two events. The physical and mental stress is considerable in both, but quite different in nature. We still have no idea how hard or easy it will be for them to continue training and playing through the summer to the levels they would wish.
The added worry this year is, inevitably, Covid-19. Both events are liable to involve quarantine as well as regular testing. That would mean arriving at both Tokyo and Auckland at least a fortnight in advance, and having to withstand isolation. Sportspeople have told the world how severe that trial can be.
One underlying problem for the 7s players is the uncertainty about the future of the GB 7s programme. At present it is a blank canvas. Scott Forrester, the head coach, has still not been able to refine his squad to the permitted size of twelve. So the English element can’t even be sure of inclusion. Most independent observers would assume that the party will consist largely of Red Roses, but at the very least that would be mean three of them missing out.
Every Red Rose will understand the complex issues involved. But some 15s regulars may pay the penalty of seeing those 7s stars take their place when the World Cup squad is announced.