Despite being handed an incredibly tough pool in the second round of the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series in Houston (click here for tickets), Trinidad & Tobago are determined to enjoy their time among the game’s elite.
There was much delight among the small women’s rugby community in Trinidad & Tobago when news filtered through that they had been chosen as an invitational team for the Houston round of the Series, though that delight was rather tempered by the news that they would face three of the leading sides.
New Zealand, champions from round one in Dubai, head their pool, which also contains England and the Netherlands, so head coach Kitty Andrews-Nero, is well aware of the daunting task ahead.
“It is a very tough pool but we expected that,” admitted Andrews-Nero.
“We knew that coming into the tournament probably ranked the lowest team we would be playing against sides like this, but we are not just there to lie down. We are going to give our opponents their due respect but we have set our own small achievable goals for each match and this tournament and that will be how we measure our success.”
Those goals include simply ensuring the team gains valuable experience from the tournament by testing themselves against the very best.
“We want to make the most of the opportunity we have to experience a new environment and to learn from the other teams and coaches. But most of all, it’s very important for us to use the tournament as a catalyst to reinvigorate women’s rugby in Trinidad & Tobago and we want to use our participation as a motivational to get more girls involved.”
While the women’s game in their country is growing slowly, Andrews-Nero says that the game remains very much in a minority.
“We have a well organised sporting environment here but rugby is still quite an unknown sport and there is an idea here that rugby is the sport that breaks the bones in your body! We have a challenge to grow the game here and we have to work very hard to get women involved in the game.
“We have worked very hard to keep the game growing though of course it is difficult, as when you play a small number of tournaments each year it can be hard to generate motivation but we have always told ourselves that we would be rewarded for remaining disciplined and committed to our development and training.”
Indeed the side’s perseverance has been paying off, having reached the final of the NACRA Sevens in recent months with some impressive performances, and now being rewarded with a spot in Houston next weekend.
“We have never been on this kind of rugby stage and we welcome it knowing that for us it means a huge amount for the development of the game in our country and region. It is our responsibility now to not look back.”
Andrews-Nero believes that Trinidad & Tobago must adapt its style to be able to continue its progression at international level.
“We have always lacked the collective pace required for this format of the game and so we have to take the ball into contact a little more often than the average team. This is something we are working on and taking into consideration as we continue to develop the team.
Players to watch out for in Houston include captain Juliana Straker, a key performer and leader for her team, newcomer Nicolette Pantor, who has shown huge promise at just 18, former top netballer Taliah Wilson as well as 2012 Player of the Year Alesha Bruce.
With the side heading to Las Vegas the weekend after Houston to take part in the Women's Elite at the LVI (go here for more), it could be a heady few weeks for the side with so much hope.