CARY, N.C. – The Women’s Eagles Sevens have come a long way since the debut of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in 2012.
The Residency program at the Olympic Training Center has grown from an initial 16 female athletes to a current 24, including a few “crossovers” from sports such as basketball, ice hockey, and soccer, while consistency in squad selection has created continuity on the pitch.
Though the U.S. must first qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games at the 2015 NACRA Sevens Championships or final repechage tournament, there is reason to be optimistic for those who have successfully acquired tickets to see Rugby Sevens’ debut at the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.
Head Coach Ric Suggitt tells his players it takes at least two years of training to properly play at an elite level. Defeats of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand during the 2014-15 Series prove the Eagles are on schedule for a positive 2015-16 campaign.
The U.S. went head-to-head with reigning Champion New Zealand more times than any other nation on the circuit during the most recent season, and only once came away with a ‘W.’ It had been a long time coming, too, as New Zealand had not lost to the Eagles on the Series until Amsterdam Women’s Sevens last month.
“They had the same starting lineup that beat us by 50 in Atlanta,” Suggitt said, referring to the Atlanta 7s pool play match in which the final score of 57-0 was recorded as the second-widest margin of victory on the Series (the U.S. holds the record with a 61-0 defeat of China at Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens last fall).
New Zealand had blazed through the season without a single loss or draw until London Women’s Sevens, the penultimate leg. The same day the reigning Rugby World Cup Sevens Champion saw its 37-match unbeaten streak ended, it qualified for Rio 2016.
New Zealand had been awarded its third consecutive Series title prior to the matchup with the U.S. at NRCA Stadium.
“I don’t know what other teams are thinking [in that situation], but I do know this about New Zealanders: they don’t like to lose, no matter what it is,” Suggitt said. “We were well prepared and we needed a couple of things to go our way, and they went our way.”
The U.S. controlled the play in the 34-5 victory and was less than two minutes away from a clean sheet. England followed suit with a defeat of the women in black in the Cup Quarterfinals as the Eagles beat Spain, before Canada progressed through to the Cup Final at the expense of the Americans.
The Eagles had turned the tables on Canada in their third meeting of the season: the Plate Final at Canada Women’s Sevens. Canada reclaimed the bragging rights in London before the final showdown in Amsterdam.
“If we had run our system the way we have been running it [in that game], if we get those support runners in the correct spot on any break, I think we probably would’ve won that game and we’d be talking a whole different story,” Suggitt said.
Coupled with the loss to England in the Third-Place Match, the U.S. finished outside of the automatic-qualifying position of fourth to extend its season through the 2015 NACRA Sevens Championships.
“It’ll be good for us as long as we recognize what happened and we build from that experience,” Suggitt said.
With Canada already on the list of Rio attendees and no other nation in the North America Caribbean Rugby Association having experience on the Series, the Eagles are primed and focused on the task at hand: Olympic qualification at the earliest opportunity.
“The girls work extremely hard at the Olympic Training Center,” the head coach said. “They’re pushed, and I want them to have fun. So when I see them playing the way they did against New Zealand, even the way they played against Canada, where they were really competitive – wow. I am excited for them.
“At this time last year everyone wrote us off.”
Catch the Eagles at the 2015 NACRA Sevens Championships at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., June 13-14. Tickets are available from $15 for single-day admittance, with weekend passes and group discounts available. The fixture list for the regional qualification tournament has been released on the NACRA Sevens event page.