Thirty-six nations (the biggest entry ever) will take part in four weeks of European Sevens tournaments, which begin this weekend with the “B” Championship, in Bratislava - the third level of European Sevens.
Video: Training at Olso RFC - home of many of Norway's squad
As there was no "B" Championship last year (the FIRA European championship was built around World Cup qualification), and the 2013 Emerging Nations tournament in Zanka was heavily hit by the weather this year, this year's third-tier tournament is more unpredictable than ever before.
In addition, an effect of the increase in the number of teams playing international Sevens in Europe is to increase the quality and competitiveness of all of the tournaments. Top seeds in Bratislava this weekend are Latvia and Norway, who have both spent almost all of their previous Sevens history in higher divisions. They will be very keen to get back to where they believe they belong - but it will not be easy.
Third seeds Finland (who are Norway's main opponents) were competing in the Top 12 alongside England and Spain only two years ago; Bulgaria (seeded four, in Latvia's group) have been playing European Sevens since 2003, and had never played below "A" before 2011, and even sixth seed Malta have never previously played in this, the lowest level of European Sevens.
All of these nations will begin the tournament with realistic chances of promotion, as will relative newcomers Slovakia - but there are only two promotion places on offer, so competition will be fierce and many will be left disappointed.
Away from the headline teams, the arrival on the international scene of Turkey - who we featured last month - will be fascinating to watch.
As with all European Sevens, the tournament will consist of 12 teams divided into two pools of six. The top two will play in the Cup semi-finals, third and fourth will play for the plate, and fifth and sixth for the bowl, with the two finalists being promoted to next year’s “A” competition.
The full draw and list of fixtures - which will be updated regularly throughout the tournament - can be found here.
This is the first of four FIRA Women's Sevens tournaments over the next few weeks. The others will be:
- 1/2 June: European Women's Grand Prix ("Top 12"): Round 1. In Brive, France. Featuring England, Spain, France, Russia, Netherlands, Ukraine, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Ireland, Scotland and Wales
- 8/9 June: European Division A. In Prague, Czech Republic. Featuring: Sweden, Switzerland, Moldova, Croatia, Romania, Belgium, Hungary, Georgia, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark and Poland.
- 15/16 June: European Women's Grand Prix ("Top 12"): Round 2. In Marbella, Spain.