The U.S. women's rugby eagles team poses for a photo ahead of the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens on Sept. 8, 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa.
If the U.S. women hope to reach the podium at the Rugby World Cup Sevens, which takes place Friday through Sunday in Cape Town, South Africa, they will have to quickly shift into high gear.
“We’ve been coming out of a bit of a competition desert,” said U.S. coach Emilie Bydwell.
The Americans, whose last competition was the France Sevens in Toulouse in May, won’t have much time to gear up at the World Cup, a quadrennial tournament that features a knockout format instead of pool play. It’s win or go home.
“The takeaway for us is that we have to show up prepared to win each game,” Bydwell said. “You’re out of the tournament before you know it. It’s really a good test to our ability to be present, aware and control our minds, essentially.”
Both the U.S. women and men finished their 2022 World Rugby Sevens Series in sixth place, and both expect to be competitive in South Africa.
The women open their tournament Friday at 6:33 a.m. ET against Poland, a team they defeated 31-7 in pool play at the Malaga Sevens in January. The men also open Friday morning, though they won’t learn their opponent until that day. All the games will be livestreamed on Peacock.
Captain Lauren Doyle and Naya Tapper, the first U.S. player to reach 100 tries, lead the American women, who finished fourth in the 2018 World Cup, which was held in San Francisco, losing in the semifinals to eventual champion New Zealand. They and five of their teammates were on that squad.
“This is a really exciting group for us,” Bydwell said. “We’ve got a lot of experience. But we also have some new players, some younger players, that filled out the roles that we need. (The) balance of youth and experience is exciting.
“It might be some of the similar faces, but I think you see a new-look team coming into next weekend.”
To help them prepare for the World Cup, the Americans played scrimmages Saturday against France and Ireland, two teams on the other side of the 16-team tournament draw.
“It just drives another level of intensity that it’s really hard to reproduce on your own,” said Bydwell, “when you have a different country across from you.”
Bydwell said that the Americans are out to prove something at the World Cup.
“We’re exceptionally driven to show to ourselves and the world that we can be a podium-performing team,” she said. “And I think that this summer has been really significant for us in terms of really looking at ourselves and … the critical few things we need to get right to be consistent on the world stage.
“We really just need to play as much rugby as possible and allow this team as many opportunities as they can before we go into a tournament to work through things together and build that connection and unity.”