The online home of Women's Rugby

Preview: China 7s

The penultimate round of the IRB Women's Sevens World Series takes place this weekend in China. We take a look through the pools at the runners and riders.

With Australia and New Zealand sitting joint top of the rankings, this tournament could go a long way in deciding the venue of this season's title.

Pool A: New Zealand, Spain, Brazil, China

New Zealand welcome back powerhouse wide player Honey Hireme who has missed the last two rounds of the series to illness. Her return is a huge boost because when in space there are few who can stop the hard running Hireme.  Sean Horan has a strong squad available this weekend, not withstanding some longer term injuries, with just one new face in Katarina Whata-Simpkins, who has represented the Black Ferns.

Spain were the Plate winners in Brazil and in their first season on the series are sitting in 6th spot, chasing England hard for 5th. They will certainly be New Zealand's toughest opponents in this pool, and should again reach the quarter-finals. However they have yet to take the next step and make the final four for the first time this season if they are to advance in the series - but to do that they will almost certainly have to beat one of their European rivals, either England and Russia, which they have failed to do this year (or, in the case of England, ever). As with some other teams, their Achilles Heel is an apparent over-reliance on a single player, in their case Patricia Garcia, whose absence has coincided with some unexpected defeats in previous tournaments.

Brazil finished 10th in their home tournament last month, when despite the brilliance of Edna Santini, they couldn't quite be lifted enough by their surroundings to climb higher in the tables. Furthermore last week in Hong Kong they could only finish 8th, with just wins against Papua New Guinea and Ireland, whilst losing to China - who they normally beat in the WSWS. But Brazil are a work in progress - now training fulltime together, and their exposure at the top of the game is giving them vital experince ahead of the Olympics.

China: Despite losing the plate final in Hong Kong to Kazakhstan, China had a good warm-up last weekend - coming agonisingly close to making the semi-finals when they drew 19-19 with eventual finalists France. Whether they can take that form into this weekend may depend on whether they they keep the same squad, as their coaches do have a tendency to rotate players at an alarming rate. They are quite capable of beating Brazil, and therefore could make the quarter-finals which might go some way to increasing interest in the event among potential spectators.

Pool B: Australia, England, Ireland, Fiji

In this very tough looking pool, Australia will start as favourites by virtue of their current position at the top of the rankings. Under Tim Walshe Australia have blended youth and experience brilliantly this season and have deservedly found themselves as the team to beat. Emily Cherry is  in superb form and it will be fascinating to see how Nicole Beck fares as she returns to the team this weekend for the first time since he 2010 World Cup. The leading kicker at that tournament, fans will particularly remember her from this bone crunching tackle in the semi-final against England.

England have beefed up their squad for this weekend's competition with Marlie Packer providing ball carrying presence and Rachael Burford returning to bring real experience to the side after an excellent Six Nations in the English midfield.  Natasha Brennan made her mark as a fine finisher in recent tournaments and despite having to face the series leaders, this squad is capable of topping this pool and pushing higher in the table than their current 5th spot.

Ireland have found life incredibly tough on the series this year and will surely find it very tough to hold onto their core spot for next season (although no details have been released about how this will work next year) Minus their more established players, who are currently focused on the 15s game, Ireland have turned to new faces for this campaign and despite their committed efforts they have found themselves scrabbling around the bottom places so far - they were 11th in Dubai, 12th in Atlanta and 11th in Brazil and to haul themselves out of the bottom two will take a big effort from this tough pool.

Fiji impressed when they were given opportunities last year with Bowl titles in Moscow and in Dubai and they will relish another chance to signal their potential. Fiji like to play a quick, physical game and can sometimes lack the fitness required to keep it up for an entire weekend.  The game is developing fast, especially as there is no alternative to sevens for women, but men's coach Ben Ryan has said that their target is more realistically the 2020 Olympics rather than 2016.

Pool C: Canada, Russia, USA, France

Canada will start as favourites, fresh from winning the Hong Kong Sevens last weekend where they convincingly defeated France in the final. Third in the rankings, this is a great opportunity for the Canadians to push New Zealand and Australia in the table but this a challenging pool that will take it out of them for the second day of the competition. Canada are a big tournament team though and having finished 2nd in Atlanta and 3rd in Sao Paolo it would be highly unlikely if they weren't there or thereabouts in the final stages this weekend.

Russia have now clearly surplanted Spain as the number 2 team in Europe, and have ambitions to go higher. Two semi-finals this season were followed by a disappointing 6th place by a tired-looking team in Brazil, but strengthened by a six week gap since the previous tournament they will certainly be in the running at the end. If they have a weakness it is perhaps an over-reliance on Baizat Khamidova - despite having talent across the team they can appear a different proposition when she is not on the field

United States will be looking to turn around what has been, by their high standards, a somewhat disappointing series so far, with their best finish so far, 5th at Atlanta, being followed by 9th in Brazil a week later. As a result they find themselves in the toughest group with no easy matches. What will make them fascinating to watch is the inclusion in the squad of Sochi Olympic bobsled medalist Elana Meyers, only a month after she took up rugby for the first time. An exciting gamble, she offers raw power and explosive speed - but a rugby field is somewhate wider and a sevens game somewhat longer than a bobsled run.

France were delighted with their journey to the final in Hong Kong, but they will find this tournament a significant step up. One of several teams with ambitions to break into the core for next season, they have redesigned their season partly to ensure they are as competitive as possible. Only Marjorie Mayans has transferred over from the Six Nations team, but the rest of the squad includes many familiar names who have concentrated on sevens this season - players such as Caroline Ladagnous and Elodie Guiglion. However, it was teenager Lina Guerin, in her first season of senior rugby, who stood out in Hong Kong and will be the player to watch.