Living the Dream – Dubai 7s
Louise Galvin is a member of the Irish Womens Sevens Rugby squad, a former international basketballer, current Kerry Gaelic footballer and regular columnist for Elverysblog.com
The excitement running through the team was palpable in the run up to our opening event on the HSBC Womens World Series in Dubai. It had been three months since our previous outing, with plenty hard work and graft put in by the squad and management in the meantime. Prior to ever picking up a rugby ball, Dubai 7s is an event that I was more than aware of – although probably due to the reported atmosphere surrounding the event as a whole, as much as the actual rugby.
For many on the team travelling it was our first taste of World Series action. Although we had come up against quality opposition in the European and World Series repechage, those games were interspersed with weaker opposition, allowing for us to rotate players in anticipation of stronger opposition ahead. There are no ‘soft touches’ on the World Series however and as we were one of the recently promoted sides, we certainly didn’t want to be considered a weaker unit either!
Another added carrot was the fact the Dubai tournament is the only one on the circuit that hosts a male and female leg simultaneously. This is a massive added bonus for female teams in particular, with increased attendances guaranteed. This year the tournament drew in 100, 000 over three days. That, coupled with guaranteed mid-winter sun, made for serious anticipation ahead of the trip!
We arrived four days before the beginning of the tournament, in order to acclimatise to the heat and humidity and adjust our body clocks. Training in the immediate run up to the first day of games was hampered by some niggling injuries to players, jeopardising their participation in the tournament. Thankfully, all players were declared fit to play by the time the team had to be officially named.
Anyone playing high level sport will tell you the day before kick off to a major game can be the longest, hardest time to get through. The aim is to stay relaxed and not get caught up thinking about the game too early, yet start to focus adequately as the evening draws in. Physically, you don’t want to spend too long on your feet walking around but don’t want to cocoon yourself for the day either – too much of either can induce heaviness in the legs the following day. Without doubt you don’t want to be lying out in the sun as this dehydrates and drains you, as well as risking sunburn. One enjoyable aspect of pre match day is carbohydrate loading! It is imperative to fuel up for the following day, and this is certainly one area I have no issues with!!
With the USA, Canada and Fiji in our group it was going to be difficult – both Canada and USA were ranked in the top five at the end of last year’s series. Fiji are an experienced team, with a style of play similar to their male team, with plenty of offloads and unpredictability. Day 1 started with an upset in the group, Fiji recording an impressive victory over the Canadians. Game 1 for Ireland pitted us up against the US. Although we still had errors, some good scramble defence and ability to keep the ball at crucial times meant we recorded a victory over the higher ranked Americans.
Canada rolled around next and we found ourselves well in the mix at half time. However their experience and finishing told in the second half. Not too disheartened, we picked ourselves up for the Fijians. Unfortunately, we followed up two relatively decent performances with one of our poorest. We failed to adapt to the Fijian style of ‘no ruck’ rugby, with a display punctuated by missed tackles and poor breakdown work.
This meant our destiny was out of our hands in terms of quarter final qualification. We missed out on point’s difference and had to compete for the ‘bowl’ the following day. We played Brazil the following morning, and guilty of still licking our wounds from the day before, spent most of the game defending, unable to hold onto possession. We were defeated by the lower ranked Brazilians which set up a final game with the USA, who we had beaten the day before. Although we upped our performances from the previous two games, the USA avenged their defeat from the pool stages. And so we went home, with plenty more questions than answers.
Following a few days off we reconvened for team and individual reviews, as well as training. We are lucky enough to have a slick new large screen TV in our meeting room, which some of the squad marvelled at upon installation. I was immediately wary. And I was right to be. One of the most uncomfortable, situations I’ve been in was sitting in that room, up the front, with the head coach analysing, with the added benefit of rewind and slow motion, missed tackle after missed tackle, completely inadequate rucking, and the worst of all…poor work rate. “Why am I lying on the ground!? Get up Louise! Chase back!” We’re talking ‘eyes-peeking-through-the-jumper’ stuff here! It reminded me of one of my fathers’ observations after watching me play a football match on TV “You were like an ol’ heifer running up and down the pitch”. The Friesian shuffle was back again to haunt me! It confirmed my previous fear, we should’ve stuck with a small screen.
All jokes aside though, this is high performance sport. It is fantastic to be able to train full-time, and then head off to exotic locations for tournaments in the sun but it is all results orientated. Each player has to be accountable for their own personal performance and contribution to the team. When these aren’t at the required level the hard questions follow. There is no shirking responsibility or blame. You have to take the rough with the smooth.
Each tournament does bring more experience and game knowledge to this relatively inexperienced team. The challenge for us is to learn from our mistakes and bring the intensity that we need to training on a consistent, daily basis. That might make for more comfortable viewing on the big screen after our next World Series tournament in February.
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