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Brown Reviews Kitakyushu Challenges

  • 11 Apr 2019

Earlier this week USA Rugby announced the squad heading to Kitakyushu, the fourth stop on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series (WSS). It’s been three months since the previous leg in Sydney, and teams are no doubt eager to get back on the pitch.

The break acted like a second pre-season, but many residents were able to mix up the regimen with the USA Falcons (and CCIG Life West and Scion) at the Las Vegas Invitational, which the Falcons won. The program then hosted Canada and China for a four-team tournament in mid-March, fielding two sides as some Hawkeye players filled out the rosters.

“But we’ve been trying over the last 8-9 months to identify the kind of people we want down here full-time, especially building into next season. … And we’re pretty pleased with where we’re sitting right now,” USA Women’s 7s Head Coach Chris Brown said. “So that [tournament] wasn’t so much about getting players from outside of here opportunities; it was more for the ones that we already identified a chance to play and to play against international competition rather than an invitational or playing ourselves.”

Fortunately this long stretch won’t be an issue next year, as the WSS is expanding from six to eight stops for the next four years.

The team that was chosen for Japan doesn’t include any debuts. Kristi Kirshe is still essentially a rookie but players with double-digit WSS appearances represent the majority of selections. Building consistency is a major goal for the Eagles, and while that foundation is laid at home during daily, rigorous trainings, it’s tested and reinforced in the international arena.

“What we always focus on is taking it one game at a time … where we’re not overlooking anyone,” USA Women’s 7s co-captain Lauren Doyle said in advance of Kitakyushu. “So just coming out of the gates firing is definitely something that we want to focus on during this tournament. Sometimes we have a little bit of a slower start so just trying to hit that on the head.”

The USA leads Pool C and will face England, Fiji and Ireland in the pool stages.

“England, a lot of their players are very similar to ours. The way that they play – or try to play the game is to create the one-on-one opportunities,” Brown reviewed the opposition.

England is missing a couple of influential players, but Ellie Kildunne is back from injury and can certainly capitalize on those one-on-one opportunities.

“Fiji is a little bit different,” said Brown, who noted that the USA has not faced Fiji this season. “So when we go play them it’ll be a familiar feeling of what we train against day in and day out when we play against ourselves.

“With the Fijian side … if we can play with the speed we want to play, there shouldn’t be too many issues as long as we maintain the ball, because the defense will disintegrate pretty quickly if we get out past three or four phases,” the coach continued. “But the challenge is that we’ve got to make sure that we don’t hurt ourselves there.”

Fiji brings an element of unpredictability to the pitch that, when properly harnessed, can derail opponents.

“ … [I]f we don’t do our individual jobs properly on the defense, on the defensive side of the ball, then it can be tough to get that ball back,” Brown said, “and they will break us at times if they hold onto the ball long enough.”

Ireland, too, is a real threat, but that game occurs in the third round, and the onus of winning the first two games takes precedence.

“Ireland, we’ll worry about them come the end of day one, but if we can take care of the first two games then we’ll be in a good place going into day two,” Brown said.

The USA has finished in the top four during the first three tournaments of this season, and sit in second in the WSS standings. At season’s end, the top-four teams will secure automatic berths to the 2020 Olympics. Photographer Alex Ho provided a visual representation of those teams in best position for Olympic qualification:

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