By John Birch
The Netherlands have a proud – even unique – place in the history of women’s rugby. It was entirely due to initiative of the Dutch Rugby Union that the first women’s international (against France at Utrecht) took place in 1982. Today the Netherlands remains one of the strongest teams outside the Six Nations and, as recent results have shown, are perhaps unlucky not to be at this year’s World Cup.
They still have plenty to work towards, however, not least next month’s European Trophy in France. ScrumQueens caught with Dutch coach Gareth Gilbert as his team prepared for their final warm-up game with Germany:
ScrumQueens: How are your preparations going for the tournament next month?
Gareth: Last week we hosted the Swedish Women’s for a training weekend which saw us play two matches. The weekend was hard and the games were very competitive and we learnt a lot about ourselves and our game. The team focus over the past six months has been really on conditioning and defence which has paid off immensely as we have only conceded one try in the last three matches we have played against the British Army and against the World Cup bound Swedish.
The team is now in it last phase of preparation and the emphasis has shifted to our set pieces as we really struggled to get good clean ball against the Swedish. What we did notice is a huge improvement in our focus and skill level for the whole 80 minutes and the ability to turn the ball over and attack space by using our very skilful backs. The weekend was also about proving to ourselves that we are good enough to play at a higher level like the World Cup and we really want to take that attitude to the Euros and really push to play in the final!!
SQ: Germany are not as strong as Sweden, and Netherlands have won the last few meetings by significant margins (30-0, 43-0 and 50-10). Will you be aiming to field your strongest side, or using the fixture to give more game time to other members of the squad?
GG: The German game is all about game time and really putting our game plan together and letting new combinations settle. However the German team has really improved over the past two seasons as they have invested a lot more into there respective women’s teams. I think they will be a lot more organised and ready than in the past and we are expecting a good hard game. The game is another step in the right direction for us as we are leaving no stone unturned to make sure the team is well prepared for the Euros and we want to give the ladies as many opportunities as possible to get mentally prepared for the Tournament.
SQ: You’ve been given a pretty tough draw again in this year’s tournament . What are your targets for the Trophy – what result would you consider success?
GG: The draw for the Euros is once again not in our favour but the attitude in the camp is if you want to be the best you have to play the best and win!! Last year we were definitely were the second best team at the Euros but because the way the tournament was structured we lost out on attending the World Cup. Taking nothing away from Sweden but we have not lost to them in recent years and we proved once again this weekend that we are stronger. The team really feel hard done by but we know the only way to send a strong message is to perform at the Euros in May. We are confident we can do well as we have some really strong players who are real game breakers. The likes of Pien Selbeck, Rita Wiri, Mara Moberg, Kelly van Harskamp and Linda Franssen will be key to leading us to victory.
SQ: Looking beyond the Euros, some nations are reporting that the decision to include rugby sevens in the Olympics is resulting in a growing pressure to concentrate limited resources more on sevens than 15s. What is your experience in the Netherlands?
GG: The Olympics has put a lot of pressure on the sport but it is a positive influence and I know in the Netherlands that both programmes have agreed to work closely and hand in hand to insure we strive to qualify for our relevant tournaments. A lot of the ladies play in both teams but in the future we will have to separate the programmes but we see this as a positive because we will be creating more opportunities and more depth for the Women’s National Teams. Resources are stretched at the moment and it will be interesting to see what the Governing bodies do in the future.
SQ: Your game against Belgium in the European Trophy will be the Netherland’s 100th full international – a milestone that no other team outside the Six Nations has reached. Are there any plans to celebrate?
GG: It will be a very special day for us as a team and Union. The team will be wearing jerseys with a special embroidered message to celebrate this great achievement but the champagne will be put on ice until we have lifted the Euro Cup!!
The Netherlands play Germany on Sunday April 18th, 2.30pm, Maastricht