Continuity has been the watchword for Tamara Taylor as she prepares Sweden for their return to the Rugby Europe Women’s Championship in Amsterdam this weekend.
Taylor succeeded her good friend Claire Cruikshank as the team’s coach last month, having served as assistant on their journey back to the second tier of European test competition.
Sweden had not played a women’s international in five years when Cruikshank, and subsequently Taylor, came on board in 2019 but have since lost only once in six tests and last year claimed the Rugby Europe Women’s Trophy title to seal promotion to the Championship.
On Saturday, Sweden will play their first match at that level for a decade and Taylor and her players are excited by the challenge that awaits – even if the Rugby World Cup winner admits it will be strange not to have Cruikshank by her side against the Netherlands.
“We’ve been on this journey together for almost the whole time,” Taylor said.
“It's always been me and her, so it was definitely a bit strange having camp without her there. She did message me, obviously, and I messaged her.
“It will be weird; she's been by my side for the whole time. But it's exciting that I get this opportunity and hopefully I can do a good job like she's done.”
Last @svenskrugby women's camp of 2022, and last time some of us will be together.— Tamara Taylor (@Timmytammy8) December 12, 2022
Thanks to PO for helping support the development of this group of awesome women.
... Let's see what 2023 will bring... pic.twitter.com/bVgSS5kShE
Freedom within structure
Cruikshank was on the touchline as Sweden warmed up for this month’s matches against the Netherlands and Spain with a game against the British Army in Aldershot, England.
Harlequins flanker Lauren Brooks scored twice as the Army won 18-5 on 7 January but Taylor was able to look at a number of players in a game situation, making it an invaluable experience.
Taylor has since taken charge of her first training camp solo and assured the squad that not much will change in the short-term.
“We've had the Army game and then that one camp in preparation, so it's not a lot of time together. We're not going to change anything drastic,” Taylor said.
“Claire and I are quite similar, which is probably why we've worked very well together over the last couple of seasons.
“We both see the game in a similar way. I think probably because we were players as well, we want it to be enjoyable.
“So, we've tried to have a structure that is just a framework rather than ‘you have to go here, you will be there third phase’, because I think as players, we didn't really enjoy that.
“[For] the girls certainly it's different, I think, to how they have been coached... But they seem to be enjoying it, to have that kind of freedom to make decisions within a structure.
“So, hopefully we'll see some of that in Amsterdam, that's the aim. But it's not a big change in that sense me taking over.”
Sweden begin the Championship 19th in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, two places below the Netherlands and eight adrift of 11th-placed Spain.
Saturday will be the first time they have faced a top-20 team since a 10-3 defeat to the Dutch in Malmö in October 2014. The highest-ranked team they have faced in Taylor’s time with the squad being Portugal (30th), who they beat 7-5 in November.
The match at the National Rugby Centre is therefore sure to constitute a step up but it is one that the Swedish players, and their coach, are determined to take in their stride.
“We did really well in the Trophy last year, the girls played some really good rugby,” Taylor said. “So, we're hoping to be able to recreate some of that again.
“It's like everything, isn't it? You wait and wait and wait and then suddenly it's here. So, I think there's a lot of excitement around the group.
“Probably nerves as well but definitely excitement.”
Following this weekend’s match in Amsterdam, Sweden will travel to Alicante to play Spain on 25 February.
Taylor concedes that winning is the “easiest measure of success” but says she hopes she can help her players showcase their talents and prove that they belong in the Championship.
“For me, the biggest thing is I want them to play rugby. I don't want them to go inside themselves and let the occasion take over too much,” she said.
“Because when we played Portugal back in November, we maybe underestimated how nervous they had got about the game.
“We had a chat about it afterwards and I'm going to be reiterating the same point that they deserve to be here as a group, and it's about going out and just being the best version of yourself when you're out on the pitch.
“So, I think success for me would be if I can see that across the group, that they are showing themselves to [be] what I know their potential is. And hopefully we'll win too.”