Two months before the Olympics are due, the GB Sevens teams finally got a tournament going. Now calls are growing louder for the games to be called off.
A Three-Way Tournament
The three-day tournament at St George’s Park Staffordshire, home of the FA, was a hastily arranged affair, designed primarily to offer Team GB the rarest of chances to indulge in some real practice.
A squad of 21 GB women* came up against France and Ireland.
Each nation played two games per day, totalling six, which gave head coach Scott Forrest the chance to see possible combinations in action – at last. For no matter how intense their training sessions may have been, there is nothing to compare with the real thing. The usual format for a 7s tournament sees three matches per day over two days. Here it was the other way round. How would players respond to the demands of stamina and concentration?
On Saturday 15 May GB women played France first. This was Forrest’s starting line-up: Burton, Hunt, Jones, Lloyd, Quansah, Smith, Thomson
Bench: Rowland, Brown, Uren, Matthews and Fleming. We were denied the pleasure of hearing Mo Hunt’s commentary for one very good reason – she was playing! A real surprise.
They did well to hold an experienced French team to two points.
Result: GB 24, France 26
In the second game against Ireland Forrest brought in Aitchison, Fisher, Joyce, Uren, Brown, Fleming and Rowland
Bench: Scott, Burton, Gaffney, Quansah and Rollie
Result: GB 29, Ireland 21
Second day Results: GB 7 France 26; GB 26 Ireland 7
If the showing against the French represented a downturn, they had their first decisive victory over a skilful and determined Irish unit in a very wet conclusion to the day.
Third day Results: GB 19 Ireland 19; GB 33 France 7
GB might have thought the first game was done and dusted after Rhona Lloyd completed a hat-trick, but Lucy Mulhall, the Irish captain and main driving force, had other ideas. Right at the end she produced a chip and chase to deny the hosts their victory.
Forrest had no doubt laid out careful plans for selection to the six games, but we can’t tell how far he had to adjust to circumstance. Might we call the starting seven in the final match against France a Probables rather than a Possibles? Whichever way, they played magnificently. Helena Rowland created a gap in midfield and outsprinted the athletic French to the line. It’s unwise conceding a penalty when Jasmine Joyce has the ball at her feet: two steps and she was away. Delightful switch passes between Jones and Rowland let Hannah Smith exploit a tiny gap to motor over. When Jones found Deborah Fleming with a long lobbed pass it meant a 26-0 half-time lead.
It took the French ten minutes to create a score, a fine run-in by Séraphine Okemba. That was to remain their only score. Jones put the icing on the cake with a memorable chip and chase, a regather and offload to Rowland to complete a wonderful 33-7 victory.
But truth to tell, the French were already assured of final victory. Up to this final match they had looked like the well-oiled machine they have been when circumstances have allowed them to play. How strange that have not yet qualified for Tokyo. They meet that challenge in Monaco.
Will the Games go ahead? They are due to start in barely two months time, and coronavirus has struck Tokyo again. The government insists they will still take place; the populace allegedly disagrees, 70% believing they should be cancelled. The final decision lies with the IOC, not the politicians or the organising committee. Billions of dollars are at stake, but so are thousands of young lives. How can the athletes be assured of a safe passage, safe accommodation and safe training facilities? As for spectators, their presence in in grave danger.
For the GB Sevens squads this is an agonising matter. The pandemic upset initial plans; then the RFU’s decision to quash the English contracts was a horrible shock. This hastily arranged tournament was a late attempt to give the players’ proper practice and Forrest to sort out his final squad – very late in the day.
The live stream laid on was in the hands of the same TV company as for the coverage of recent AP 15s matches. Weaknesses included: the two commentators, Simon Ward and Rob Vickerman, located in a Transit van, so lacking an optimum view of proceedings. That helped to explain, if not excuse, the faulty identification of players. Vickerman was at pains to underline the undoubted virtues of the Sevens game he had graced as England captain.
For obscure reasons the cameras missed the start of more than one match. Then the producer preferred to show an immediate replay of every try, not the conversion attempt that followed. This was unforgivable, as that element of the game so often means the difference between victory and defeat.
The standard of camera work was mostly more than adequate, but viewers had to put up with hand-held cameras swinging down to view the ground, and camera selection was too often confusing or ill-timed. The quickly edited highlights of each half were well managed, but they did occasionally run into the restart. Captions were clear, though the team-lists were shown far too briefly.
Holly Aitchison, Abbie Brown, Abi Burton, Heather Fisher, Deborah Fleming (all England), Megan Gaffney (Scotland), Natasha Hunt (England), Hannah Jones (Wales), Meg Jones (England), Jasmine Joyce (Wales), Rhona Lloyd (Scotland), Alex Matthews (England), Helen Nelson (Scotland), Celia Quansah (England), Chloe Rollie (Scotland), Helena Rowland, Emily Scott (both England), Hannah Smith, Lisa Thomson (both Scotland), Lydia Thompson and Emma Uren (both England).
It differed somewhat from the extended squad announced last summer. Missing were: Amy Wilson Hardy, Beth Wilcock, Ellie Kildunne, Jodie Ounsley (all England), Keira Bevan (Wales) and Sydney Gregson (England).
In their place came three Red Roses with immense experience, Hunt, Scott and Thompson.