Eight years after being turned down as hosts for a leg of the World Series, Spain comes to the rescue this this weekend and next with two rounds in Malaga and Seville.
The World Series finaly arrives in Spain this weekend. After successfully staging two Olympic warm-up events last year, the official Series comes to Malaga this weekend and Sevile next, replacing planned rounds in Australia and New Zealand.
It has not been quite plain sailing however. Series and Olympic Champions New Zealand pulled out two weeks before the event was due to take place because of problems getting back into the country afterwards, and Fiji pulled out last weekend as they were unable to travel following positive tests in the squad. Fiji hope to play in Seville next week, however.
Belgium have been recruited to replace New Zealand but lack of time has meant that a substitute for Fiji could not be found. Their opponents in all cancelled games will be awarded a win.
However, all of the other teams are present which means the series returns to its usual three pool format.
Without New Zealand and Fiji, Australia will start as strong favourites after winning the first two rounds. With Olympic gold medal winning coach Tim Walsh back in charge the extended squad selected to cover both Spanish rounds includes only one new cap, Bienne Terita.
Australia lead Pool A which otherwise now includes three European teams – Spain, Ireland and Belgium.
Spain continue to have their eyes on the future and will be looking to take full home advantage and build on their sixth place in the second round in Dubai, which was a significant improvement on their 10th place in the first Dubai leg. Nonetheless there are changes with Eva Aguirre returning from injury, and Bruna Elias and Clara Piquero joining the squad.
Ireland also improved in the second Dubai sevens, going from ninth to seventh. Lucy Mulhall captain the team which includes just one new face in Erin King.
After getting as close as a World Series semi-final in 2017, Belgium finally get a chance to play in the series. With a European Championship that included wins against Poland, Spain and Wales, the Belgians are not to be underestimated though getting out of the pool will be a tough ask.
With Fiji absent from Pool B, United States and Canada will be favourites to reach the quarter finals, though the win Fiji’s absent give Poland means that they too could make the last eight.
Seventh and fifth places for the United States in Dubai leaves them currently fifth in the series, and they field a stronger team in Malaga. Kayla Canett returns to sevens after missing Dubai on XVs duty, and Lauren Doyle, Nicole Heavirland and Kristi Kirshe are back having also missed Dubai. Only one player makes their series debut – Sarah Levy – though she has already international experience at last season’s Fast Fours.
Two eighth places and 10th place in the overall series is not the start that Canada would have chosen, putting them in unheard of position of potential relegation candidates. Karen Paquin returns to strengthen the team, along with Paige Farries who returns to sevens from fifteens. Meanwhile Florence Symonds and Alysha Corrigan are due to make their debuts in what is still overall a young Canadian squad.
With fourth and second places in the two rounds of the European Championship last season – including wins against Scotland in both tournaments, Poland are very capable of holding their own against leading teams and will be aiming for a quarter-final spot in what will be their first appearance in the Series. The squad is not yet published.
Leading Pool C, at the time of writing France have yet to announce their squad, but with two third place finished in Dubai following on from Olympic silver they will be confident for their hop over the border into Spain.
Russia returned from Dubai with two fourth places and will be expecting to improve on that with a strong squad full of experience.
Brazil started with a sixth place in the opening Dubai tournament but slipped to ninth in the second, so Malaga will be crucial in deciding whether they will be competing for a best ever series, or another year of scraping in the lower reaches of the series. They have also not yet published their squad, but the opening round in Dubai must have given them confidence.
Finally, England play their first sevens for nearly two years – their last appearance being sixth place at Sydney in February 2020. Abbie Brown and Megan Jones are co-captains in a squad that includes a number of new names including Tatyana Heard and Kelly Smith from Gloucester-Hartpury, Saracens’ Chantelle Miell and Loughborough Lightning’s Georgina Tasker. England have been awarded half of the series points that Great Britain earned in the first two rounds.
Australia: Madison Ashby, 7 caps; Charlotte Caslick, 35 caps; Lily Dick, 7 caps; Dominique Du Toit, 17 caps; Demi Hayes (c), 14 caps; Tia Hinds, 2 caps; Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea, 2 caps; Maddison Levi, 2 caps; Teagan Levi, 1 cap; Faith Nathan, 6 caps; Sariah Paki, 12 caps; Cassie Staples, 12 caps; Bienne Terita, Jakiya Whitfeld, 2 caps.
Belgium: Ella Amory; Cecile Blondiau; Shari Claes; Ciska de Grave; Pauline Gernaey; Loes Hubrecht; Matgaux Lalli; Emilie Much; ManonNairac; Cristina Pecoraro; Nele Pien; Margaux Pierson; Margaux Stevins.
Canada: 1. Olivia De Couvreur (Ottawa, ON) ; 2. Alysha Corrigan (Charlettetown, PEI) ; 3. Pamphinette Buisa (Gatineau, QC) ; 4. Breanne Nicholas (Blenheim, ON) ; 5. Olivia Apps (Lindsay, ON) ; 6. Emma Chown (Barrie, ON) ; 7. Sabrina Poulin (St. Georges de Beauce) ; 8. Nakisa Levale (Abbotsford, BC) ; 9. Paige Farries (Red Deer, AB) ; 10. Karen Paquin (La Ville de Quebec, QC) ; 11. Elissa Alarie (Trois; 12. Chloe Daniels (Sutton, ON) ; 13. Florence Symonds (Vancouver, BC)
England: Ellie Boatman; Abbie Brown (C); Abi Burton; Heather Cowell; Grace Crompton; Tatyana Heard; Megan Jones (C); Alicia Maude; Chantelle Miell; Isla Norman-Bell; Kelly Smith; Georgina Tasker; Emma Uren
Ireland: Kathy Baker (Blackrock College RFC); Megan Burns (Blackrock College RFC); Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union RFC); Stacey Flood (Railway Union RFC); Katie Heffernan (Mullingar RFC/Railway Union RFC); Eve Higgins (Railway Union RFC); Brittany Hogan (Ballynahinch RFC/Old Belvedere RFC); Erin King (Old Belvedere RFC); Emily Lane (Blackrock College RFC); Kate Farrell McCabe (Suttonians RFC); Anna McGann (Railway Union RFC); Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum RFC)(Captain); Béibhinn Parsons (Blackrock College RFC)
Russia: Asiyat Alieva; Anna Barachuk; Elena Zdrokova; Snezhanna Kulkova; Nadezdha Medvedeva; Kristina Seredina; Nadezdha Sozonova; Alyona Tiron; Darya Shestakoa; Victroa Em; Darya Noritsina; Diana Glushenko; Baizat Khamidova.
Spain: Eva Aguirre; Bea Dominguez; Imgrid Algar; Olivia Fresneda; Bruna Elias; Maria Garcia; Anne Fernandez de Corres ©; Iera Echibarria; Paula Requena; Lea Ducher; Clara Piquero; Amaia Erbina; Amalia Argudo.
United States: 1. Cheta Emba; 2. Ilona Maher; 3. Kayla Canett; 4. Nicole Heavirland; 5. Lauren Doyle (C); 6. Alena Olsen (VC); 7. Naya Tapper; 8. Jazmine Gray; 9. Alex Spiff Sedrick; 10. Mata Hingano; 11. Kristen Thomas; 12. Kristi Kirshe; 13. Sarah Levy