The Tunisian women's rugby sevens team has just spent a week at the French rugby union’s national centre in Marcoussis, near Paris. For several days, the Rebellious, the name the Tunisian players have given themselves, worked with the France team and the BelSevens of Belgium.
"We have had a good relationship for almost 10 years with David Courteix (the coach of the France team)," says Abbes Kherfani, coach of Tunisia. “We stayed put, we didn't move, we were tested four or five times in all."
In every sense of the word – from a logistical, health and sporting point of view – this camp prior to the World Rugby Sevens Repechage in Monaco was very beneficial for Tunisia.
On 19 June, the side will face Papua New Guinea, Kazakhstan and Jamaica in Pool B. The Tunisians would have appreciated a little more playing time to better prepare, but the COVID-19 crisis denied them this possibility.
"Our last competition was in the African Cup in October 2019," says Abbes Kherfani. “We were nevertheless able to participate in two camps: the Rugby Africa solidarity camp with Madagascar and Kenya at the end of April and the beginning of May, then the one in France. These were the only possibilities."
A four-year trajectory
Fifth in the Dublin repechage tournament in July 2016, Tunisia failed to qualify for Rio 2016. This time, their second attempt, the Rebellious do not want to go unnoticed.
“We defend the Tunisian flag everywhere; we have nothing to lose. Our motivation is to play hard, to play to the end so that we have nothing to regret. There is a whole country behind us, we have a beautiful country to represent,” insists Kherfani.
In this nation where rugby is not the most popular sport, the Olympic dimension of the women's national team encourages the press and public to mobilise and follow the tournament as they journey to Monaco.
In four years, women's rugby in Tunisia has developed a great deal, thanks to the new federal office which wanted to focus on the sport's grassroots in order to expand it, constituting U12, U14, U16, U18 and senior teams.
“It is thanks to this that we were able to participate in the Youth Olympic Games in Argentina in 2018 with the U18s. We lost our six games, but at least we were there!" says the former sevens and 15s international player.
Monaco first, Cape Town and Paris second
Among the group he is taking to the Principality, seven girls were part of the Youth Olympic Games and four were already present in the 2016 repechage. National coach since June 2020, Kherfani has his sights sets beyond Tokyo, with qualification for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in Cape Town, followed by the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
But before that any of that, his side will face three strong opponents in Monaco. “Our first game will be against Papua New Guinea; it will be the big piece of the pool. In the Pacific, you know, it breathes rugby!" says Kherfani.
“Then we will play Kazakhstan and Jamaica, two teams that we are able to pass. We have one chance to get out of the pool."
According to Kherfani "the girls are excited" to play in the Olympic Repechage in Monaco: "they're going to give themselves 1,000 an hour!"