Ahead of the start of the Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Championship 2022 last month, Poland’s players were primarily looking forward to playing a tournament at home.
Poland had finished the 2021 Championship second, but HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series teams France and Ireland had not competed.
Both were back for 2022 and by their own admission, the Polish squad did not expect to finish above those teams at the end of the two-tournament series to win a maiden Championship title.
“Before the Championship, everyone would have chosen France or Ireland to win,” Malgorzata Koldej told World Rugby.
“We thought about third place, maybe second… if something happens, maybe we can take second place. We didn't think about first.”
“It gave us a power”
Those preconceptions were challenged in the very first match of the opening tournament of the 2022 Championship on 25 June, when Poland beat a France team containing Camille Grassineau, Chloé Pelle and Jade Ulutule 28-24.
Victory proved a springboard to success as Poland remained unbeaten in Lisbon, winning 19-15 against Scotland in the Cup final to take the tournament title.
“After the first tournament was done, we thought a little bit about first place,” Koldej added. “It gave us a power, a big power.”
The team would take the confidence gained in Portugal into their home tournament in Krakow the following weekend.
Playing an international tournament in front of their home fans for the first time, Poland again reached the final. This time they were beaten 21-17 by Ireland, who had also won their pool stage meeting the previous day.
However, by the time the showpiece match kicked off at Stadion Miejski im. Henryka Reymana on 3 July, the hosts were assured of winning the Championship crown regardless of the result.
According to Anna Klichowska, finishing top of the standings gave her a “joy that cannot be described”.
“We made two dreams come true at the same time,” she said. “We played the tournament in Poland and won the title of European champion.”
For her team-mate Koldej, who enjoyed a fruitful career in sprinting before taking up rugby just three years ago, being part of the first Polish team to win the Championship was made more special because they had done it at home.
Koldej’s parents were in the stands, watching her play rugby for the first time, and she says the players fed off the energy coming from the Krakow crowd.
“This is something incredible for me,” she said. “The Polish fans, the atmosphere in the stadium, we heard them on the pitch.
“This is something that gives you [an extra] player on the pitch… you feel them and that is something amazing.”
Both team-mates attribute Poland’s recent success to the close bond that has developed among the players within the squad.
The majority of the team play together for a club in Gdansk, and they have therefore become incredibly close as they chase their dual aims of qualifying for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 and becoming a core team on the Series.
“My team is like family,” Koldej explained. “We are all friends, they do everything for me, they help me a lot... Coaches, players, they are the best.”
It was that caring environment that attracted Klichowska to the game when she first attended a training session with a friend eight years ago.
“The rugby team is like my family and these values in my life are very important to me,” she added.
“If we add to this the possibility of practising sports that has accompanied me since childhood and has always been in the first place, we have a perfect combination.”
Klichowska and Koldej will be important members of the Poland squad that attempts to win one of the four tickets to RWC Sevens 2022 on offer to women’s teams at this weekend’s European qualifier in Bucharest.
Ireland will be one of the 11 nations competing against them for a ticket to Cape Town, as will Series core teams Spain and England.
However, Poland could not have prepared any better for the tournament than with their historic Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Championship success.
Koldej believes that heading to Romania as European champions gives the squad confidence but insists they won’t take anything for granted.
“We never ignore anyone,” she said. “It’s great to play as European champions but it’s also a big responsibility.
“Also, I think we respect all of the teams, no matter what place they have.”
Klichowska, meanwhile, gave up the opportunity to become an officer in the Polish army to chase qualification for RWC Sevens 2022. Achieving that goal would not only be vindication for that decision but would help the team become even better.
“It is another dream that a few years ago I would not even have thought [possible],” she said.
“Those who know me know how much I am waiting for this rank (officer).
“Taking part in this tournament and playing with the best teams in the world will give us the opportunity to gather the most valuable experience, which will certainly translate into further successes and the longed-for promotion to the Series. It’s another step forward for our team and the entire Polish Rugby Union.”