England's women 'optimistic'
England will head into the women's Rugby World Cup Sevens this week feeling optimistic about their prospects and wiser for the experience of their previous campaign, according to vice-captain Alice Richardson.
At what was the inaugural women's RWC Sevens in Dubai four years ago, England, having topped their pool with three wins from three games, were beaten by Australia in the quarter-finals and went on to claim the consolation prize of the plate. Richardson said the way things panned out left her and her team-mates "totally devastated".
The 26-year-old Richmond fly-half also believes it was a major learning curve, though, and something that, given a total of six players who were involved in Dubai are part of the 12-strong party this time around, will very much set England in good stead over the coming days.
Ahead of the Moscow event - which sees England, who are regarded as one of favourites to win the tournament, compete in Pool D with France, Japan and Russia - Richardson told Press Association Sport: "We were totally devastated to pick up the plate in 2009 because like now, we were number one seeds going into that tournament and were really optimistic.
"There had been a really positive lead-up to the tournament where we won nearly everything we entered, and we were playing really well. Then we got knocked out by Australia on day two. I think it made us a bit more wise to the competition and the way to close out games.
"It was just a big learning curve for us at that point in time, and with everyone who has come through that learning curve, it can only contribute to how we play this time around. Everyone who played in the 2009 World Cup definitely wants to step it up this time, with a little bit extra behind them perhaps."
Asked about the possibility of winning the competition, she added: "It is realistic, an achievable aim. Sevens is so tight, it is difficult to have that attitude too much. But I think everyone is confident."
Richardson is reluctant to pass judgement on whether or not England have a better team for Moscow than they did for Dubai, but feels that overall the standard of sevens rugby - which will make its debut as an Olympic sport at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games - has improved.
"I can't say whether the team is stronger - whoever is on form, England always pull out a really good team," she said. "It is difficult to compare the team from four years ago to now, but the game has moved on in my opinion. I think every year the game gets stronger and stronger, so if you look at it like that, I think the overall strength in depth we have is greater now."
It was confirmed that England's Danielle Waterman has had to pull out of the squad due to injury, and has been replaced by Fran Matthews. The group, who fly to Russia on Tuesday, are skippered by IRB Women's Sevens Player of the Year Michaela Staniford, with Barry Maddocks overseeing as coach.