Since its introduction in 2015 the Canadian leg of the Women’s Sevens World Series in Langford has been the best supported event, with near sell-put crowds, A great atmosphere is guaranteed.
This year, while New Zealand seem to have the series sewn up, there is still plenty to play for including a battle for qualification for the World cup next year, and a fight to avoid relegation that looks like going down to the wire.
With the series all-but wrapped up, New Zealand are turning their attention to August’s 15s World Cup in Ireland. Their squad for Victoria is a little different to previous rounds, but such is the Ferns depth of talent, still very powerful.
Sarah Goss, Kelly Brazier and Portia Woodman are the main absentees, though the XVs squad has released Theresa Fitzpatrick for this event. Shakira Baker, Jess Drummond and Crystal Mayes come into the squad.
“Many of our experienced players are moving over to the Black Ferns for the next couple of months so it has given us the opportunity to look a bit deeper into our talent pool,” explained coach Allan Bunting. “It’s created opportunities for players with less game time over the world series to step up for the last two tournaments.
“While many of these players have been in our wider team environment this year, injury or other factors have ruled them out of selection, so our training-camp this week has been about whanaungatanga [kinship/sense of family]. We’ve welcomed the new players and given the team clarity, confidence and courage to express themselves and front every challenge.
“This is also an opportunity for us to extend our leadership group, with Tyla Nathan-Wong stepping up from assistant captain to captain with support from Ruby Tui and Niall Williams who have been doing an outstanding job in our leadership group.
“We’re stoked for our players who’ve been selected for the Black Ferns for the upcoming International Women’s Rugby Series and are in contention for the Rugby World Cup. It’s a great opportunity for them to experience a pinnacle event, represent our country and compete for a World Cup.
“They will play some physical close quarter rugby, learn new skills from quality coaches and will come back to sevens better from it. They will have an appreciation of the abundance of space that we have in sevens, but understand the skill set and energy systems needed to maximise the space.
“We’re well aware of the challenges we have ahead of us in our pool in Langford against England and USA. We will be taking it one game at a time. It is great to see the Netherlands back in the series for this leg, they always put up a physical well-rounded challenge and have really pushed us in the past, so we are focused on them for now.”
The squad will be tested by a tough group that includes an England team that significantly improved in the last round and the mercurial United States who have been causing upsets all year, but should make the quarters comfortably.
Squad: Tyla Nathan-Wong (captain), Shakira Baker, Michaela Blyde, Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga, Jess Drummond, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Crystal Mayes, Cheyelle Robins-Reti, Alena Saili, Ruby Tui, Katarina Whata-Simpkins, Niall Williams. Travelling reserves: Lyric Faleafaga, Tayla Reti
Coach James Bailey has made six changes to the side from Japan. Lauren Cattell, Katie Mason and Kelly Smith, who all made their debut on the World Series in Dubai, re-join the squad alongside Chantelle Mielle and Lotte Clapp, who made their debuts in Sydney and Las Vegas this year, and Natasha Brennan.
“It’s exciting to see how the squad has developed over the course of this season”, said Bailey. "With so many players having made their debuts on the World Series this year, we want to continue to give them opportunities to progress, learn and build experience as we pursue our overall goal to earn qualification for the World Cup next year."
Bailey has appointed Alice Richardson-Watmore as captain of the side for Langford, with Abbie Brown unavailable for selection due to injury.
“While it’s disappointing for Abbie that she won’t be joining the squad in Langford, this is a great opportunity for Alice, who has consistently demonstrated her leadership skills, both on and off the field, to lead the squad in Canada."
With so many changes it is difficult to predict whether England will be able to continue their upward trajectory this weekend – the first game with the United States is essential. On the other hand, with New Zealand missing several players England could finish in any of the top three places and should make the quarters.
Squad: 1. Natasha Brennan; 2. Katie Mason; 3. Alice Richardson-Watmore ©; 4. Millie Wood; 5. Lauren Cattell; 6. Deborah Fleming; 7. Heather Fisher; 8. Kelly Smith; 9. Lotte Clapp; 10. Jo Richardson –Watmore; 11. Holly Aitchinson; 12. Chantelle Miell
After a final and a semi-final, the United States will have been disappointed to finish the Japan leg in seventh place, but will know that their second day losses against England and Fiji could both have gone either way. They remain a very dangerous team.
For this round Jessica Javelet and Richelle Stephens return for the first appearances since Rio after impressing coach Richie Walker and his staff at a training camp earlier this month.
There are five changes in all from Japan with teenager Mata Hingano - “a different type of player to the squad" in Walker's eyes - poised for her series debut and, while Cheta Emba and Kate Zackary also make their returns to the squad.
The crucial game will obviously be with England – a game that opens the tournament on Saturday. Although they lost by two points on the second day in Japan, the USA beat England quite comfortably in the pool on day one. They could well repeat that.
USA squad: Cheta Emba, Kristen Thomas, Kate Zackary, Nicole Heavirland, Richelle Stephens, Alev Kelter (captain), Naya Tapper, Kelly Griffin, Kelsi Stockert, Joanne Fa'avesi, Mata Hingano, Jessica Javelet.
The popular Dutch return to the World Series after relegation in the second season and a failure to win promotion for next season in Hong Kong. After losing much of their funding and several big names after relegation the focus has been develop individual players and gain experience during major international tournaments as part of a long climb back.
It is a mark of the changes that captain Pleuni Kievit is one of seven players making World Series debuts this weekend, and it could not be a tougher start than to play series leaders New Zealand in their first game.
In Hong Kong the Dutch showed great promise, but their tendency to lose crucial games they are expected to win remained when they not only lost to Belgium for the first time ever, but did so at the quarter-final stage. This weekend, with nothing to lose and no pressure, they could spring the odd surprise – though it would be remarkable if they were not in the Challenge on the second day.
Squad: Amy Stolk (Rugby Club Delft), Jordan Heil (RFC Haarlem), Annemarije van Rossum (All Blues), Linde van der Velden (Castricumse Rugby Club), Anne Hielckert (VC) (AAC Amsterdam), Marit Bakker (Rugby Club Delft), (Bodil van Wijnbergen) All Blues, (Nikki Weijers) AAC Amsterdam, Erin Arends (RFC Haarlem), Pleuni Kievit (C) (Rugby Club the Dukes), Jannicke Ijdens, Willemijn ter Avest (AAC Amsterdam)
Coach: Sascha Werlich. Coach / Teammanager: Richard van den Broek
Canada have epitomised the “curse of the hosts” that seems to haunt the World Series, and will be desperate to leave behind the two disappointing home series results of the past two years, especially with a second place series finish well within their sights.
“This is a team that is becoming used to pressure,” says experienced squad member Amada Burke. “Winning bronze at the Olympics taught them a lot about dealing with that expectation and I think they will thrive on the support of their fans in Langford. It’s going to be a big crowd, making a lot of noise and creating a fantastic atmosphere. Hopefully, Canada will settle into that, feed off it, really enjoy themselves and play with smiles on their faces. That’s when they are at their best.”
“Keep an eye on Julia Greenshields,” she continued. “We know she has lightning pace and is a great finisher but she’s also developing other aspects of her game too that allow her to take the fight to the opposition when the need arises. The way the team is set up at the moment will give her the freedom to use her pace to devastating effect. Amazingly, she has a better scoring percentage than Landry although of course she’s played a fraction of the games.”
Another player to watch list is 19-year-old Caroline Crossley. A local girl, Crossley comes from the nearby Castaway Wanderers RFC and earned her first cap back in 2015 at Dubai while still in her final year at Oak Bay High School in Victoria. Her progression has been steady since then and now she has another chance to cement her place in the squad.
Burk said: “Caroline has the physical presence to match up well against the Russians and French. She’s about as homegrown as you can get and while the Langford crowd will be cheering loudly for Canada, they’ll reserve some extra volume for Julia. It’s great to see her stepping up at this level, as well as players like Hannah Darling and Breanne Nicholas.”
“We know how good New Zealand and Australia are but we also know from experience that France are tough and are improving all the time. The same is true of Fiji. They are one of my favourite teams to watch, so unorthodox, and they are beginning to add a bit of structure to their natural Fijian flair which is making them formidable opponents for everyone. I’m looking forward to watching them play in the sunshine this weekend.”
On paper, their European rivals should not offer too many problems for the Canadians who have made the last four in the last three rounds – but form can go to the wall faced with the expectation of a home crowd.
Squad: Britt Benn – Guelph Redcoats (Napanee, ON); Caroline Crossley – Castaway Wanderers (Victoria, BC); Hannah Darling – Peterborough Pagans (Warsaw, ON); Bianca Farella – Town of Mont Royal (Montreal, QC); Julia Greenshields – Sarnia Saints (Sarnia, ON); Jen Kish – Edmonton Rockers (Edmonton, AB) ; Ghislaine Landry (captain) – Toronto Scottish (Toronto, ON) ; Megan Lukan – Unattached (Barrie, ON); Breanne Nicholas – London St. Georges (Blenheim, ON); Ashley Steacy – Lethbridge Rugby Club (Lethbridge, AB); Natasha Watcham-Roy – Hull Volant (Gatineau, QC); Charity Williams – Markham Irish (Toronto, ON)
Injury continues to be the main story out of Russia with Daria Lushina now being added to a positive hospital ward-full on injuries that also include Christine Seredina, Daria Bobkov, Nadezhda Kudinova and Nikolina Ryashin.
Yet, despite all that, Russia remain comfortably the leading European team with qualification for the World Cup all-but certain, quarter-finals reached in all four rounds and every expectation of making a fifth. Confident, putting in consistent performances with their win over a much improved and strengthened England in Japan demonstrating how strong they now are.
Squad: Arina Bystrov (RSUTS-Moscow); Anna Gavrylyuk (RSUTS-Moscow); Marina Petrova (RSUTS-Moscow); Marina Kukina (RSUTS-Moscow); Darya Noritsina (RSUTS-Moscow); Elena Zdrokova (Yenissei-STM); Anna Minislamova (Yenissei-STM); Alain Mihaltsova (Yenissei-STM); Maria Perestyak (Yenissei-STM); Catherine Skoromko (Krasny Yar); Bayzat Khamidov (Krasny Yar); Darya Lushina (RTSSP by ITT)
Eighth place in Japan was France’s lowest finish of the season, allowing England to close to within two point of them in the fight for a place at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018. As a result their squad as been boosted by the return of captain Fanny Horta, Shannon Izar and Marjorie Mayans for this round of the series.
Jennifer Troncy is also back with Caroline Drouin, Jade le Pesq, Laurelin Fourcade and Lina Guerin the players to missing this time. Overall this looks a powerful side, with Izar in particular a key returnee who was on terrific form at club level at the end of the season.
France have flattered to deceive on several occasions this season, threatening to defeat New Zealand more than once before falling to lower ranked opposition. This time around they avoid the Ferns by instead face hosts Canada in the opening game, as well as arch-rivals Russia. They will really have to down one of them to grab the good quarter-final place they need.
Squad: Montseratt Amedee, Pauline Biscarat, Lenaïg Corson, Camille Grassineau, Clémence Gueucier, Fanny Horta (Captain), Shannon Izar, Marjorie Mayans, Carla Neisen, Séraphine Okemba, Chloé Pelle, Jennifer Troncy.
The main story from next two tournaments is less the desination of the champions as the identity of who will drop out to make way for Japan next year. Brazil currently occupy the trapdoor place, but their three point deficit to Spain is nothing - if one or the other made the quarter finals it would disappear.
Beatriz Futuro ("Baby") Muhlbauer recognises what is at stake. "As the penultimate round of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series 2016-17 approaches, it is inevitable to think about what is at stake for us. We understand the pressures to remain as a core team on the series and have been working hard to improve some aspects of our game in order to succeed. At the same time, it is inevitable to acknowledge that all teams are improving, and there have been some interesting upsets and surprising results during the season to date.
"Unpredictability is one of the most amazing aspects of the game, and during the past few months we have witnessed some remarkable events: USA and Canada playing the gold medal match in Sydney, Ireland as a consistent top eight team and even our own upset of England in overtime in Australia. We would love to continue as a core team in the world series and will do our best to accomplish this goal.
"For us, it's not just about representing Brazil as we are also responsible for representing South America. That is probably a sentiment shared by other countries, such as South Africa and Japan in that they represent their entire continent when they participate in the series. The post-Rio 2016 scenario was uncertain for everyone – some key players retired and, for us, there was a need to give an opportunity to younger girls to play at this level. We also had to adapt to new schedules and a new coach. It was more than teaching skills and systems, we are also passing our values on to the next generation.
"Staying on the circuit would be important to maintain the momentum of our growth here. An entire generation of new rugby players have watched us prepare during the first Olympic cycle for rugby sevens, culminating in our qualification and subsequent participation this year in the series. If we end up falling out of the circuit, we will face some uncertainties that could stunt our game's growth. In South America, we have one regional tournament every year. As a result, outside of the world series, we end up feeling isolated from competitive rugby and lack opportunities to test ourselves at an elite level. The sevens season is even more important to us as Brazil doesn't have a women's 15s programme ... yet!"
"So, yes, there is a lot of pressure. And yes, it is hard to be competing at this level knowing that for us it is all or nothing. However, if I had to sum up our biggest learning of the season so far, I would say it isn't something game-specific. At the high performance level we always have to be focused on developing skills and systems, but this year we rediscovered something that is just as important – we have to enjoy it. Yes, we think about the results, about the scores and about the points we have to earn to remain as a core team in the world series, but if we're not having fun, it's not worth it.
"Rugby is a beautiful game, we try to give it our Brazilian flavour, and an essential part of that is to enjoy being part of it. Without this passion and fun, we also wouldn't be representing Brazil. We hope, and will continue to work hard, to be able to bring our passion, intensity, and joie de vivre to the future seasons of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series."
Squad: Luiza Campos (c), Raquel Kochhann, Beatriz Futuro, Paula Ishibashi, Maíra Bravo, Isadora Cerullo, Haline Scatrut, Edna Santini, Claudia Jaqueline, Bianca Santos, Cleice Lopes and Aline Furtado.
Sharni Williams is one of four changes to the Australian squad that finished third last time out, despite having a number of injuries. She is joined by the experience of Brooke Walker and Tiana Penitani while Cassie Staples makes her debut.
The downside is that Ellia Green and Evania Pelite both miss with the knee injuries they picked up in Japan, while Emma Sykes and Mahalia Murphy are rested.
“We’re going to Canada fixed on performing to the best of our ability and we're going there to win,” insisted coach Tim Walsh. “We’ve got a really strong squad with a great mix of youth and experience. There's a great opportunity for some new stars to be born.
“Cassie is a unique talent, and a perfect example of the kind of athlete we want to unearth during the Aon Uni Sevens Series later this year. She's fast, tough and agile but also, more importantly, has a real point of difference.
It’s been a disappointing series so far, with New Zealand now almost untouchable and Canada breathing down their necks. “We haven't performed to our standards this season and we have to own that and live with that. We're fully focused on this tournament.”
The major opposition on day one will be Fiji, but Australia should win the pool comfortably.
Australia squad: Sharni Williams (co-captain), Demi Hayes, Shannon Parry (co-captain), Tiana Penitani, Chloe Dalton, Georgina Friedrichs, Charlotte Caslick, Brooke Walker, Alicia Quirk, Dominique Du Toit, Emilee Cherry, Cassie Staples. 13th player: Shanice Parker
Fiji continue to get better and better and are now targeting a breakthrough victory against Australia and New Zealand as their main aim for Canada.
They made their first semi-final of the series in Japan and a repeat in Canada is entirely possible, but the next step will almost certainly require them to topple a regional rival.
Fijiana coach Iliesa Tanivula said the team has made improvements this season but still have work to do.
"The composure at the crucial times under pressure and just our decision making in those times," he said. "It's something that we've learned as a team, something for (training) next week we've just got to sit down and go through a few of those videos and hopefully we get it right by the time we play those good teams like Australia and New Zealand.
"They're well coached, they're experienced teams and it's always good to get up in this tournament and play them at that level."
Captain Ana Maria Roqica and Miriama Naiobasali were both named in the tournament 'Dream Team' at Kitakyushu, while Naiobasali was the second highest point-scorer over the weekend.
Iliesa Tanivula said it was fantastic for his players to receive recognition for their performances.
"It's huge for us to have two of our players in there and just...the way the other girls have played with each other and it's sort of a reflection of what they've done," he said. "And I'm pleased to see that and hopefully we can be consistent on that and keep producing some of those performances."
The Ireland were ninth in Japan, and are also in ninth place in the current World Series standings, and almost certainly safe now from relegation.
The team will be captained by Lucy Mulhall with Ashleigh Baxter, Kim Flood, Stacey Flood, Louise Galvin, Claire Keohane, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Sene Naoupu, Audrey O'Flynn and Hannah Tyrrell all returning from Japan
Katie Heffernan, who was the 13th squad member in both Las Vegas and Japan, finally makes her World Series debut this weekend along with player Anna McGann Both players have come through Ireland’s development programme, and were in the Irish Development side that played in Dubai last December and in the recent Dublin 7s. Chloe Blackmore of St. Mary's completes the squad.
Anthony Eddy said: "We're looking forward to travelling to Canada for the fifth event of the World Series. Victoria is a great location and I know the players have enjoyed being based there in previous years.
"We will be looking for a positive start and a good team performance on day one. We're up against three teams who we're very familiar in Fiji, Australia and Spain. They're going to be three tough games, so we really need to be on our game and look to get some good results to set us up for a good day two."
Squad: Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster); Chloe Blackmore (St. Mary's/Munster); Claire Keohane (UL Bohemians/Munster); Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster); Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster); Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster); Katie Heffernan (Mullingar/Railway Union (dual status)/Leinster); Anna McGann (UCD/Leinster); Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum/Leinster) (capt); Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union/Munster); Sene Naoupu (Aylesford Bulls); Audrey O'Flynn (Ireland Sevens Programme); Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
As with Brazil, Spain are playing for their World Series lives with only a three point advantage over their rivals
Eusebuo Quevedo has included two debutantes, both from champions Olympico - Barbara Garcia and Maria Ahis who replace Sabina Hurtado and Raquel Garcia.
Spain face two tough opening games, but if they can beat Ireland in their final match a crucial quarter-final remains possible.
Olivia Fresneda INDUSTRIALES; Maria Ribera XV SANSE SCRUM; Patricia García Rodríguez OLÍMPICO POZUELO; Iera Echebarria OLÍMPICO POZUELO; Barbara Garcia OLÍMPICO POZUELO; Maria Ahis OLÍMPICO POZUELO; Amaia Erbina CISNEROS; Federacion Catalana ; María Losada INEF BARCELONA; María Casado INEF BARCELONA; Federacion De Euskadi ; Nerea Agirre GETXO; Barbara Pla GETXO; Uribarri Barrutieta GETXO;