Sweden coach Claire Cruikshank hopes her side’s Rugby Europe Women’s Trophy success can act as a springboard for female participation in the Scandinavian country.
The Swedes ran in eight tries to beat Switzerland 48-0 in Geneva on Saturday and wrap up the 2021-22 Women’s Trophy title with a perfect three wins from three.
Victory gave Sweden their first outright piece of 15s silverware, less than three years into Cruikshank’s reign as coach, which has been heavily disrupted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
🇨🇭 v 🇸🇪 | All over. It's a solid performance by Sweden women who are crowned 2022 winners of the Rugby Europe Trophy. 👏 pic.twitter.com/JVV3zn0WMM— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) March 12, 2022
“I don’t even really know how to describe it,” Cruikshank told World Rugby.
“It’s no more than everyone deserves. I’m just absolutely chuffed about it and to do it in the way we did was even more special.”
Cruikshank and her assistant Tamara Taylor want their team to play a fast brand of rugby, and the players certainly started quickly at the Centre Sportif des Cherpines, crossing the whitewash four times in the opening 22 minutes.
Number eight Matilda Mahlberg provided two of those tries, and blindside flanker Maja Meuller went on to touch down twice herself, the second completing the scoring with around seven minutes to go.
“The first 10 minutes [of the second half], they put us under a lot of pressure, but it was really pleasing to see that we held out,” Cruikshank added.
“They were probably camped on our line for five minutes and we managed to not let them score.
“We were quite comfortable at that point, so it allowed us to give the extended squad a good amount of game time as well, which again was really pleasing to see.
“It just grows our depth. We had five players getting their first caps on Saturday and that's 18 first caps in our three games.”
“There’s a real positivity around the squad”
Celebrations following Saturday’s match were muted as Cruikshank and her players only had around an hour and a half together before they all had to head to the airport to board various flights back to Sweden, France and the UK.
On Monday morning, Cruikshank was back at her desk at the University of Edinburgh, where she works as Head of Performance Women’s Rugby, and she will soon shift her focus internationally to Sweden’s women’s sevens team.
She now hopes to harness the upbeat mood that has developed around the national set-up to help grow interest in rugby across Sweden.
“The amount of messages, the support on social media is something I don't think any of the players have experienced before,” she said.
“So, there's a real positivity around the squad, and what we want to do is build on that. So, how can we get more young girls playing? How can we get increased numbers at clubs? How can we support coaches better?
“And, you know, we've got a few ideas about how we can do that. But already the vibe and the positivity around the group is way higher than we've experienced before.”
Although Sweden’s Rugby Europe Women’s Trophy campaign came to end with Saturday’s win in Switzerland, Cruikshank is hopeful of organising a training match for the squad before the end of the season.
Looking further ahead, the former Scotland international is keen to help strengthen the age-grade structures in Sweden so there is a pipeline of talent for the senior team.
“I’m loving what I’m doing, and we’ve just started the journey,” she said. “I’m fully bought into what we’re doing here in Sweden.”
(Photo credit: Sportsphoto.ch / DoddsiePhoto.ch)