Sweden coach Andy Franco and captain Elisabeth Ygge both admit their preparation for the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 qualifier in Madrid may not have been ideal, but few will underestimate them after they upset two fancied sides to qualify for England 2010.
Four years ago Sweden made home advantage count by beating Spain and Italy to qualify for their first Women’s Rugby World Cup since 1998 and Ygge believes that experience will be invaluable in their bid to qualify for the 2014 event in France.
“The qualifier for WRWC 2010 was played in Sweden and we won against Italy, Germany and Spain despite being the underdogs,” recalled Ygge, who played in both the qualifiers and WRWC 2010.
“It was an amazing experience, playing international rugby in your home country and winning. There has not been a lot of women’s internationals played in Sweden, so it was great for publicity and recruitment of the sport.
“I think the qualifiers for WRWC 2010 will play a major role in these qualifiers as it shows us that it was possible to qualify before and we know that we can achieve this again. You do not go into these types of tournaments just wanting to play some good rugby, we are in it to cause an upset.
Hungry for success
“Unfortunately quite a few players retired after the World Cup in 2010, but those few that are still playing have got enough experience to help a very young team to succeed. We didn’t reach our goals in WRWC 2010 although I believe we should have done much better.
“We tasted success in the last qualifiers and we are hungry for more.”
Franco added: “The preparations have not been ideal, we haven’t had as many training camps or games leading up to the qualifiers as the other teams we’ll be facing will have so it will be a tough test for us.
“Nonetheless we are a strong team with many veterans passing down the wisdom and young players looking to prove their worth to the team and the opposition.
“Qualification is as important as breathing – it’s the ultimate goal of any 15-a-side team. If ... when we qualify it will be our fourth appearance in the competition which is a fantastic achievement for a country that only has about 160 women playing rugby.”
Desire and passion
If Sweden are to emerge through the six-team qualifier and claim one of two places available from it at WRWC 2014 then they will have to overcome hosts Spain, Samoa and Scotland between 20 and 27 April.
Both Ygge and Franco know that won’t be easy, but the Swedish side certainly won’t lack for determination and passion to write another chapter in their country’s rugby history.
“My expectations for the game against Spain is that they will play with a lot of heart and flair,” admitted the 25-year-old number 8. “I have no idea how good Samoa is but I can imagine them being bloody tough!
“Scotland has always been well organised and a difficult side to meet, so three really hard games but that’s how it should be in a World Cup qualifier, and that’s exactly what we’re looking forward to.”
Coach and captain are also united on what the strength of the Swedish team is.
Versatile and flexible
“Without revealing too much, I can say this – we might not have had the same amount of possibilities to prepare for the qualifiers as some of the others teams but our team spirit is awesome,” admitted Ygge.
“I have never seen so many different girls click so well in such a short amount of time. The team really plays and puts their bodies on the line for each other and I really see that as a big strength that will be tough for our opposition to overcome.”
Franco added: “Every coach has a different style and each have seen the strength of the team to be different. This year it’s versatility and flexibility. I have never coached a side that adapts so well to all the situations placed upon them on and off the pitch.
“I will also say it is the team’s biggest potential, the ability to adapt to any team’s playing style, disrupt it and exploit it. Our biggest strength is team spirit, their ability to work, train and play for each other has been a tremendous aid for the preparations.
“There was a consensus of thought from the last camp, it went along the lines of ‘toughness comes from trust, which can only be achieved by talking, completed Tillsammans' - that is Swedish for together.”