Before commenting on this match a word of congratulations to Tova Derk, former Exile now Wasps, who made the starting line-up for a 696 cap Barbarian team which just beat the USA 34 – 33 on Friday night. A sensational performance by Welsh girl Jasmine Joyce who scored four tries including the winner just before the final whistle. She has been the star attacker in the 6N this year and previously ran away from Sweden in the GP a couple of years ago. Tova played for the Babas a year ago in a low-key match, but this was their first international match. She was classed as one of the traditional uncapped players in the Babas team, a slight exaggeration as she has been Sweden´s best player for the last few years. I was impressed by her English as well in the interview before the match.
Gibraltar has for political reasons been banned by Spain from participating in European competition. As a result they play a few friendlies each year against modest opposition. Two weeks ago they lost 24 – 22 away to Denmark, on May 5 they play Sweden and in the Autumn they play Bermuda. And that´s it for the season. I think the team is mainly British soldiers in the garrison on the Rock and their standard is around the lower half of Conference 2. Probably a reasonable standard for a first and last warm-up game before Hungary and Ukraine, but why they should travel to the Algarve in Portugal to play them is a mystery. It would of course have been far cheaper to play Denmark who at present are at the same level. The team selected is as usual not the best, in fact it is very close to that which beat Luxemburg by a whisker in November. All are from the 40 who came to the only training camp at Bosön a month ago. Of these, there are four surprising omissions: Rikard Nunstedt, Philip Murphy, Alfred Nordgren and Sami Paulsson. All four would be in the best team selected from the 40. Philip has I believe study commitments and Sami has often work involvement. Who knows about the others. Add another 4 or 5 players who failed even to make the 40 and we have as usual about half of Sweden´s best team selected. This is par for the course in recent years and the reason why we are ranked at 46, about 10 below where we should be. I would expect this team to win by about 30 points against Gibraltar, but I doubt if we can beat Hungary and Ukraine on the following two weekends to gain promotion. The latter seem on a downward path at present following a 17 – 13 defeat to now relegated Moldova but they will have home advantage and a keen awareness of what is at stake in their final game. Even Hungary cannot be completely ruled out in the promotion battle. They will just scrape home if they beat Sweden and Luxemburg and gain at least nine points. If Sweden then beat Ukraine, it´s Hungary who will be promoted. And they seem to be improving all the time.
So much for the playing aspects where once again the management have put up a very poor show. This is shown by the unique decision to commit not once but twice to the national team when the Swedish leagues are in progress, i e May 4 and 19. This has become clear a week before the start of the season and has needless to say caused a storm. This might just have been acceptable a) if there had been a long-term dialogue between clubs and Union where sacrifices were agreed upon for the national cause of returning to the Trophy division in Europe and b) if there were no other alternative dates to combine club and national commitments. a) has obviously not taken place and b) other alternative dates could easily have been chosen for national team preparations and also to move league games. This is obviously a massive failure by the Union and it is up to the Union to attempt to solve it. Anna-Lena Swartz has been appointed to an overall responsibility for Swedish teams, but has provided no written information about what Swedish rugby is trying to achieve. This is as good a time as any for her to try to explain the Union´s incomprehensible choices or to resign.
For the record, the 24 players selected consist of 10 playing abroad, 9 in Allsvenskan and 5 in lower Swedish leagues.