England women’s sevens reward their national rugby board’s investment

'You can see the additional energy and staying power that the full-time programme affords you', England coach says

England, in white, taking on Canada during the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series at the Rugby Sevens grounds in Dubai on December 4, 2014. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // Serenaded off the field with a rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, the England women’s sevens team took another step to justifying their national body’s decision to offer full-time contracts to the country’s top players.

Under the floodlights on Thursday night at the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, England defeated Canada 17-12 in a hard-fought match that was a repeat of August's 15-a-side Women's World Cup final. The victory was the team's third straight after easy wins over Fiji (26-0) and Brazil (29-7).

England raced to a 12-0 lead in the first half, but Canada battled back and England coach Simon Middleton said his side would have likely lost the match had the Rugby Football Union (RFU) not rewarded the World Cup win with the financial backing that allowed 20 of the country’s best players to receive full-time deals.

“Since turning professional, you can see the additional energy and staying power that the full-time programme affords you,” Middleton said. “That was demonstrated at the end here. We would probably have lost that game last year, but now we are stronger, fitter and able to see them out.”

Natasha Hunt, the English scrum-half, was a teacher when she decided to quit and focus on sevens. Centre Claire Allan took a sabbatical from the police force to go full-time.

"Some massive decisions had to be made," Middleton said. "Some of the girls were well on their way to having established careers. A lot of the girls are taking big pay cuts, so financially, they have had to readjust and go into shared houses just to make the dream come true and give it a shot. But this is their passion."

Hunt loved teaching, but she does not miss rising at 6.30am to train before work, and again afterward.

“Maybe it is because I have been in this sport for a long time and know how precarious it can be, but I think they are incredibly brave,” Middleton said.

“When they got the contracts, there were twinkles in their eyes and they didn’t take much signing – it’s days like this that make you understand why.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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