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In brief: Preparing for Sao Paulo

France, Spain and Great Britain come together again in Soustons; and Fiji gather strength at Coral Coast. Brazil warm-up for the Olympics in South Africa; and Malta and and Israel prepare for the European Championship.

Video: Ladagnous back in action for France

Brazil looking good in South Africa

Brazil completed a three-day competitive training camp in South Africa last weekend. Full-length games were played every day and, although various different combinations fielded by both team, unofficial reports state that the visitors came away with seven wins in eight games – an impressive performance by the Olympic hosts against the team that was their biggest rivals in last season’s World Series.

Admittedly the two teams are at very different places in their development cycle, with Brazil building up for Rio, while South Africa are looking further ahead at a return to the World Series and a place in the 2018 World Cup after the disappointment of losing their Olympic place, as a result of a decision of their Olympic committee (and perhaps a lack of foresight by their Union) rather than their performance on the field.

Indeed coach Renfred Dazel used to the weekend to try out some of the players from outside the squad who had impressed him at the SA Rugby Interprovincial Sevens competition in Nelspruit last season, and he praised the young players for their brave efforts: “Some of the invited players impressed us immensely”, he said, “which is particularly pleasing given the fact they are not familiar with our structures. This was the first time some of them played alongside the contracted players, which is also pleasing. Apart from exposing these players to top-class international Sevens rugby, the matches also offered us an opportunity to see how the fringe players cope with pressure in a match situation.”

The Olympic decision, while not unexpected, will still have hit the players hard, but Dazel is looking forward, and that said the matches had served as a good yardstick to measure the quality of their performances.

“The main objectives for us were to monitor the implementation of our structures and to measure where we are in terms of our quality of play and what we need to improve on for the season ahead,” said Dazel. “The matches were very competitive, which is pleasing, especially this early in the season, as our team only assembled in camp on 11 January.

“Brazil certainly tested us, and they used their speedsters well to make their presence felt. But it was good to see how our players responded to the challenge. They showed good innovation on attack and times and they showed a lot of character despite the physical nature of the matches and the intense heat in Stellenbosch, so our foundation is in place for the season ahead.”

Fiji targeting podium in Rio

The belief of the Fiji team is growing as they prepare for the resumption of the World Series later this month in Sao Paulo. Lead by Lavenia Tinai, who top scored in the tournament, Fiji Mokosoi – their development team - won last month’s Coral Coast Sevens, beat a powerful young Aussie Pearls team (the 2015 champions) in the semi-finals before seeing off an American development team - USA Serevi Selects in the final.

Chris Cracknell has been in charge of the team for six months. Having achieved Olympic qualification he is now looking at the next generation:

“I’m really impressed with some of the youngsters to be quite honest, a couple of whom are genuine U18s and they’re mixing against some seasoned veterans and showing them up”, he told Jill Scanlon of UR7s after the win. “I’m in a very lucky position where there are girls from other sports that want to transition into rugby – very lucky to have girls from an already experienced sporting background that want to come and play rugby. I’ve (currently) got 24 girls that genuinely want to be in the squad.

“In the immediate future it’s about us unearthing those girls that are coming through the U18s and then going to Sao Paolo and being as successful as possible there and then building on the World Series (and) going to the Olympics -- that’s the immediate plan. The bigger picture is to be successful at those things and the rest of it will come.”

Vela Naucukidi, Fiji RFU’s Women’s Development officer is also impressed by the development of the national squad: “I’ve been working in women’s rugby since 2000 and now there’s been a really big change to how [the public] look at women’s rugby -- very positive, very supportive. You see people on the streets, they shake your hand, they thank you for a job well done (and) what you’re doing for the women. Last year we were surprised because we usually only have the women’s teams in the urban centres but we are now having teams in the villages, so it says a lot that the community is accepting the girls and the young ladies to play.”

There is still a long way to go, however, with none of the women in the squad contracted to the Union. “We’re pushing for contracts at the moment”, says Cracknell, “they all still have to work. They get paid a daily allowance for coming in but not really enough to get by on. And these girls help support their families and it shows a testament to them why they turn up, why they push themselves – they do it for their family,” he said.

France on top in Soustons

France appear to have had the best at a three-day three-nations training camp in Soustons last week. Although full scores have not been revealed (as is normally the case with these training tournaments), La Republique des Pyrenees reported that their “A” team had beaten both Great Britain and Spain (28-17 and 26-7 respectively), while the “B” team had also beaten Spain (15-7) and only lost 7-0 to the GB team. However, the real bonus for France was the successful return to action by Caroline Ladagnous, after seven-month absence through injury.

France have also announced their squads for their next tournaments. 

Sao Paulo: Pauline Biscarat, Lénaïg Corson, Lina Guerin, Clémence Gueucier, Fanny Horta, Shannon Izar, Caroline Ladagnous, Jade Le Pesq, Marjorie Mayans, Amélie Mugnier, Rose Thomas, Jessy Tremouliere

Las Vegas / Vancouver: Audrey Amiel, Laurelin Fourcade, Camille Grassineau, Elodie Guiglion, Christelle Le Duff, Laurianne Lissar, Montserrat Amedee, Chloé Pelle, Jennifer Troncy, plus three players from Sao Paulo

Malta to host international sevens tournament

Malta’s national team are currently preparing for to host one of their most significant international Sevens tournaments for some years. The national teams of Switzerland and the Czech Republic have confirmed their participation, plus a team representing Scilly, and two local teams. The tournament will take place over the weekend of 20/21 February.

Israel offering a warm welcome

Newly promoted to the second tier of European Sevens, Israel are looking for opposition who will challenge their national team and help them prepare for this year’s tournament. Any teams looking for some winter training in the rather more welcoming climate of Israel are invited to contact team manager Liat Geller. “I need someone who will really push the girls and give them a good idea of what to expect” she tells us. “We're offering full hospitality - they only need to cover their flight over”