The Netherlands will arrive in Atlanta with a simple mission – to prove they are good enough and worthy of regaining their place as a core team on the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series for 2014/15.
They finished seventh on the inaugural Series, but then lost their core team status for this campaign after failing to reach the Cup quarter-finals at Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow last June.
However, with a new coach in Chris Lane at the helm and having been working hard away from the spotlight, the Dutch are eager to “regain some international credibility” over the next two weeks in Atlanta and Sao Paulo.
“We are definitely good enough to be a core team on the IRB Series and when we do return to that and get regular high level competition we will challenge the top teams in the world,” insisted Lane, the former Australia Women’s Sevens coach.
“It is very important for us to perform well at these tournaments and regain some international credibility … it is essential for us to [regain core status] if we are to develop the Game in the Netherlands and have a realistic preparation for Rio 2016 qualification.”
A sentiment echoed by Kelly van Harskamp, who was nominated for the IRB Women’s Sevens Player of the Year 2013 award and was a frustrated watcher of the opening round of the Series in Dubai before Christmas.
“Last season gave us the opportunity to participate in a world-class tournament basically every two months,” van Harskamp said. “It just taught us more about what it means to be an elite athlete, how to handle the pressure of big tournaments and how to take care our yourself in the sense of recovery and preparation.
“It was very disappointing, of course, to lose our core team status. Every World Series tournament that we are not participating in feels like a missed opportunity for us. Regaining core status will help develop the individual players, the team and the pathway for women’s rugby in the Netherlands.”
Lane may have only been in the role of Dutch Women’s Sevens coach for a short time, but he has had a positive effect on the team according to the experienced van Harskamp.
“Chris Lane has come in since the beginning of January and brought a new energy to the team. We have a lot of trust in each other and he gives a lot of confidence to the players,” she explained.
“There is a very positive energy between him and the team. It’s a new voice and we have been getting some new insights in how to play the game.
Working hard to improve
“This year we are really working hard on improving as a team. We are working very hard on our individual skills so we can all perform our roles with the team.”
Lane has been equally impressed by what he has encountered in his new role.
“I have watched them perform on the IRB Series over the past two years and have always been very impressed with their athletic ability and skill level,” explained Lane as to what had appealed to him about the role.
“They were also obviously very dedicated and have very good training systems and facilities in place here in Amsterdam. They are very talented girls, who work extremely hard, but lack some self belief and the knowledge or experience to win tight games.
“Preparation has been very satisfying, everyone is working hard on improving ourselves and learning some new skills as well as implementing some new ideas on how to play the game.
“I am happy with our development as a team.”
Gauge of development
The Netherlands have been draw alongside three core teams – world champions New Zealand, England and Ireland – in Pool B for the Atlanta Sevens this weekend, but that is something that doesn’t faze either Lane or van Harskamp.
“We are very excited to get the opportunity to compete against three core teams,” insisted Lane. “It will give us a great gauge on how far we have progressed since the World Cup.
“It doesn’t matter who is in our pool, the challenge for us is ‘are we confident and disciplined enough to play the way we want to play under match conditions and pressure?’”
Van Harskamp added: “We have been in a pool with New Zealand and England a few times last season and we played some pre-season friendly games with Ireland. All teams will give us a good test and playing them in Atlanta will give us an indication of what we have progressed on from last season.
“We are aiming to put in a consistent performance and stick to our team goals through both tournaments.”
Netherlands Women’s Sevens squad:
Joyce van Altena, Linda Franssen, Tessa Veldhuis, Lorraine Laros, Pien Selbeck, Kelly van Harskamp, Anne Hielckert, Annemarije van Rossum, Jannicke IJdens, Elke van Meer, Tessel van Dongen, Dorien Eppink.