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'I expected more from Scotland... we saw the worst from them on Sunday'

By Rachael Burford
Jade Konkel of Scotland during the Scotland v Italy Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifying match at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi (Photo by Giorgio Perottino - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

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The first round of the Rugby World Cup qualifiers made for some interesting watching last weekend. The round-robin style tournament kicked off on Sunday, and over the next two weeks we will see one team qualify to take part in next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.

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First up we saw Scotland go against Italy. I expected more from Scotland, and think we saw the worst from them on Sunday. Italy made a bold statement with their style of play, and that will set them in a good position as we move forwards. Added to this, its important to acknowledge the home advantage that Italy have. Based on their performance, its hard to look past Italy’s very real chances of success.
Many will have overlooked the toll that traveling will take on these players. The movement and subsequent stress of traveling should be taken into consideration. People often forget, the players involved in these matches are not full-time professionals. They are normal people, with normal jobs who will have shifted their work and life choices around the Rugby World Cup in hopes of qualifying for the competition.

In terms of a spectacle, all four teams were gunning for an opportunity to be involved in the World Cup, we saw some tight margins with Ireland V Spain, it really could have gone either way.

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Most expected Ireland to come off with the win against Spain, but the Spanish side walked away with a narrow 8-7 victory. The Spanish side galvanised around Patricia Garcia, they didn’t give up the fight and you could tell how much the win meant by the team’s reaction at the final whistle.

It’s always difficult to go up against teams like Spain, they have had plenty of experience in the 7s circuit and bring in a different style of play. They are not totally process driven the whole time, which can be tricky.

Do I think Ireland have the ability, the strength and depth to turn things around? Yes, I do. You can never underestimate a team who have been wounded.

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Some have linked the Irish team’s performance to issues that have been happening at the domestic level. From experience, I can say that when you are in an international environment, and you are preparing for a game, that game is all you will be thinking about. If any issues creep in, senior players and team management will work together to ensure the focus is put back onto the challenge in hand. Ireland will understand that as a squad and will be mature enough to understand and focus on their own performance.

If we are to evaluate these matches honestly, then outside factors must also taken into consideration. Preparation for all sides hasn’t been what teams would have liked it to be. Most sides haven’t had the opportunity to take part in warm-up matches, with some also having little domestic rugby to take part in.

As with anything, there are always ways to make things better. However, covid is still very much with us, and everything is done differently now. World Rugby worked hard to ensure the live streams were available to watch, free of charge with commentary available for both matches. It would have been great to see someone pitchside, to give that extra layer to the fans, but things like this aren’t always accessible.

Looking ahead, we have some 7s action coming up with the World Rugby Sevens Series in Canada this weekend. The fast four format of the tournament sees Canada, USA, Mexico and Great Britain all play each other, with the top two teams battling it out for gold the next day.

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After Team GB’s performance at Tokyo, many will be excited to see Abbie Brown and Meg Jones continue their co-captaincy. The team has seen some changes since then, with new players added into the mix. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing Harlequins’ Heather Cowell play, and think the series will present a big opportunity for these players to make an impact and be introduced to a global audience.

Most won’t be aware but behind the scenes, some clubs are supporting the sevens series by releasing Premier 15s players from club commitments to allow them the opportunity to play sevens.

In my days of playing, I was lucky enough to do both, I remember winning the Six Nations, and getting straight on a flight to Hong Kong the next day. It’s important that the relationship between clubs and players is an open one, as both sides will have an agenda. It’s essential that clubs are putting players in a position where they can play both sevens and 15s.

Like most things, the sevens season has been greatly disrupted because of the pandemic. The fast four style tournament is built to entertain, and with lots of new names and faces I hope we will bring in a new audience. The fast-form sport has already proved itself a few weeks ago back in Tokyo, and with a massive year ahead for the sport, this weekend is set to be a good one.

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'I expected more from Scotland... we saw the worst from them on Sunday'

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