‘No time to waste’. Those opening words in GB Sevens’ ‘Mission Possible’ tell an awkward tale.
The British Sevens programme is like a square peg in a round hole. As with all other sports, only Great Britain is allowed to qualify for an Olympic Games, so the English, Scottish and Welsh unions have to coalesce to build men’s and women’s teams. The decision was made to unite them permanently, but the pandemic added a huge obstacle in their path.
Scott Forrest, the women’s head coach, got as far as nominating a training squad at the beginning of the year. Then all had to go quiet. Only recently have they been able to join up again and train.
It is a squad full of talent, but can they possibly raise their standards sufficiently over the next six months to catch up on other nations who have been together for so much longer? They have enjoyed two advantages: training alongside the men who achieved a silver at Rio; and enjoying a regular programme of top-class rugby, thanks to the survival of the Allianz Premier 15s – though not all of the squad were able to take part.
But then comes the readjustment to the requirements of Sevens. Its physical and technical demands are quite distinct. That is where GB are at their gravest disadvantage. The nations they will need to overcome have, by and large, concentrated exclusively on Sevens.
At the time of writing a final GB squad has yet to be announced. That will cause the usual pattern of extreme emotions: unbridled happiness at inclusion; devastation at being excluded.
Then comes an extra worry, the lack of competition time. A planned visit to Marcoussis for a preparatory run-out has been cancelled. So the women are looking at a blank sheet before the trip to Japan. This is far from what had originally been hoped for.
The competition this week in Dubai reveals the rock-face the British have to climb. France sent two squads over, still leaving behind a highly competent squad to sort the Six Nations. Meantime, players in the GB squad were also at home performing in the 6N. France, Canada and the USA looked a whole grade better than the other competing nations, Brazil, Japan and Kenya. But that still leaves Australia, New Zealand and Russia as highly probable medallists at Tokyo.
‘No time to waste’ now becomes ‘no competition to waste’; but competitions for GB look like a desert mirage.