USA and GB stroll in a Los Angeles park
This Quest for Gold tournament, a final preparation for the Olympics next month, has an unusual format. The first day was purely a warm-up. The serious business (points mean prizes) starts on the second day, Saturday.
As feared, the competing teams in the women’s section were ill-balanced. Team US waltzed to a 71-0 victory over Jamaica. An hour later Team GB had little trouble in topping that mammoth total against Mexico.
Everyone was happy to be in action on the field, but for the British the question was: will the lack of regular competition over the past months prove an insuperable handicap? Only the contest against the Americans would come anywhere near Tokyo standards. So against Mexico it was a matter of fine tuning, or, more prosaically, having a proper run-around with the ball at last.
GB v Mexico
Scott Forrest showed his hand by selecting what looked like something close to his strongest unit: Abbie Brown, Alex Matthews, Celia Quansah, Helena Rowland, Jasmine Joyce, Meg Jones and Mo Hunt.
As with the US-Jamaica game, tackling was an optional extra that the opposition mostly decided to forego. Hunt took the kick-offs, several achieving their object of regaining possession. She cantered over for the first of thirteen tries. Helena Rowland (in the first half) then Holly Aitchison (in the second) widened the gap with a series of conversions, some from the wide outside.
There were only momentary blips: when Brown was caught in possession and dispossessed; then when both Joyce and Quansah found a pass dropping behind them. None proved a game-changer. GB at once regained possession from the first mishap; the wingers were given time to pick the ball up behind them, then power through non-existent tackles for a try.
Result GB 76-0 Mexico
GB v USA
This was the high quality encounter everyone expected. USA had their big guns on show, Emba, Gustaitis, Kelter, Thomas et al, and the new faces were there for a reason.
GB were put on the back foot at once. US swung the ball to their right wing where Joyce was put on her backside as Maher powered past her. Joyce is as brave as they come, but against a 5-10 light-heavy weight she has to be in perfect position to take her opponent down.
Four tiny errors led to four tries.
GB were patient in their build-ups, but midfield artists like Rowland, Jones and Aitchison couldn’t create decisive openings.
As the clock ran towards zero, GB went on searching for an elusive score. It came on the end of a wing-to-wing movement, Brown playing a captain’s role going over on the far right.
From there Aitchison showed her potential as a winner in tight games by popping the conversion between the sticks.
To show the distance the British still have to travel, Hunt’s drop-out travelled eight metres forward.
Result: GB 7-26 USA
Something is far better than nothing. In Los Angeles the British squad have the rare and valuable experience of travelling far to a tournament and taking on unfamiliar opposition. Scott Forrest and his staff will be learning a lot about the many strengths and few weaknesses in their chosen team.
The second day will provide a truer test of their abilities.
We had a sharp reminder of the privations suffered by tier-2 and 3 nations with the stories behind the Jamaican and Mexican enterprises. An absolute minimum of team-building and preparation had been possible.
The Jamaicans in particular suffered anguish when some of their party weren’t allowed entry into France to take part in last week’s Monaco Sevens. They had to withdraw.
The Mexicans have taken on a high performance coach to raise their standards. But it’s a long haul that a pandemic can only delay.
Mr Zuckerberg was kind enough to let the cameras parade on his live stream channel. But as with the Super Series at Chula Vista two years ago there was a very amateurish feel to the production. For the opening games the cameras were all at ground-level. Fortunately our commentators had done their stuff and picked out most of the players correctly. Later one camera was placed high up to give a distant view of proceedings. The on-screen score took some time to catch up with reality.
We learned of friends and families coming from all over (Canada, Montana, Philly…) but as at Chula the crowd in the camera-facing stand was minute.