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WSWS reaches its climax in Clermont

As usual we preview the teams and squads (as they are announced) for the final tournament in this year's Women's Sevens World Series, in Clermont Ferand, in France. To be updated as more squads are revealed.

Kenya make their World Series debut this weekend.

Pool A

England

After their first series win since 2013 in Langford, following on from third in Atlanta, England have found form and will be looking to continue that into the final round, and on to the Olympics. It is also, of course, the final tournament where they will play as "England" until after the Olympics - an extra incentive, perhaps, for a good performance. The Langford win also makes England top seeds, for the first time, which along with the pool draw means that they are unlikely to meet any of their rivals in the top half of the series before the semi-finals.

Coach Simon Middleton makes two changes from Langford last time, bringing back Claire Allan and Natasha Brennan to replace Sarah McKenna and Jo Watmore. He said: “We have secured a top three finish in three of the four tournaments so far this Series. That will be our aim again this time. It was great to get the win in Langford under our belts and show people what the squad are capable of. We expect tough competition in France and look forward to it, in what will be the final time we meet most of these teams before going out to Rio for the Olympics.”

With the European Championship still to come - where they will play as Great Britain - Middleton still feel that there is time to experiment at little. Commenting on the selection of former international hockey player Brennan, who last played in Sao Paulo, and Claire Allan, who will be making her fourth appearance this Series. he said “With just over two months now until Rio, we felt it important to look at different combinations,” Middleton explained.

Team: Claire Allan; Natasha Brennan; Abbie Brown; Heather Fisher; Natasha Hunt; Katy Mclean; Alice Richardson; Emily Scarratt (C); Emily Scott; Danielle Waterman; Kay Wilson; Amy Wilson Hardy

Spain

Spain's Plate final in Langford was their best result for over two years, and the pool draw would appear to give them an excellent chance of a third quarter-final this season and a great boost before the vital Olympic play-off in Dublin next month - which must be their main target. However breaking out and getting beyond that the quarters would seem to remain beyond them - they have not featured in semi-final since 2012. A mixture of young and experienced names finished an encouraging fifth in Guildford last weekend but, as with the senior team, failed to break through against teams from the top half of the series table. Finishing ahead of Russia again would be huge boost

Team:  TBA

United States

The Falcons won in London last weekend will have been a boost after slipping back to seveth place in Langford. One of the most unpredictable teams in the Series, the USA will wanting to return the place in the final four which they achieved in Sao Paulo - it may be a tough ask, not least because they will need to get past Spain who beat them twice in Langford. 

Ten of the 12 Eagles selected for Clermont played that USA Falcons team tournament. The exceptions are Lilly Durbin, who makes her debut at the age of 17, and Kelly Griffin, who returns to squad having missed Atlanta and Vancouver owing to injury.

Durbin recently partner her High School teammate Richelle Stephens in the U.S. colours, while Stephens is making her fourth Series appearance this weekend after debuting in Dubai and Kathryn Johnson also is back in the World Series team having returned to the training squad last month.

The USA are currently sixth, but are competing with Russia for fifth place, currently two points ahead of them.

Team: 1. Jillion Potter; 2. Kathryn Johnson; 3. Carmen Farmer; 4. Kelly Griffin; 5. Kristen Thomas; 6. Lilly Durbin; 7. Richelle Stephens; 8. Bui Baravilala; 9. Ryan Carlyle; 10. Alev Kelter; 11. Jessica Javelet; 12. Victoria Folayan            

Kenya

Kenya’s women are faced with by far their toughest rugby challenge ever this weekend. This will be a huge step up for a team that only came away from the Hong Kong sevens last month with the bowl, and have rarely played (never mind beaten) non-African opposition. They are incredibly keen and committed, but based on experience alone it would be a surprise if Kenya were to win a game this weekend.

In practice this weekend will be essential preparation for the Kenyans before Rio – where the prospects of success (in the bowl competition) will be greater, and where they could win a place in the World Series for 2016/17.

However, Kenyan website Citizen TV has revealed that severe financial problems with the Kenyan RFU has meant that the  players have not received any allowances for two months, and the coach has not been paid for five. With many of players relying on the allowances to pay for basics, including food, one anoymous player is quoted as saying:

“I love playing for my country with much pride. Sure everyone who knows me will cheer me on but when I come back, I sneak back to my place since have got nothing to show off for. I also clean clothes for people and do other odd jobs to sustain my family and also get some bus fare. I can barely afford three meals a day, mostly I rely with what they give us to eat after training and go to bed. How do they expect us to perform if you can’t eat or have a settled mind?” 

Team: Stacey  Awuor, Janet Owino, Doreen Remour, Grace Adhiambo, Celestine Masinde, Cynthia Camilla Atieno, Sinaida Aura, Sheila Chajira, Irene Otieno, Rachel Mbogo,  Kate Abilla (captain)

Pool B

New Zealand

Play-time is over, experimentation finished. Kelly Brazier, Kayla McAlister and Huriana Manuel and back in what is the clearly strongest Fern squad for over year. It’s unlikely that New Zealand will be able to stop Australia winning their series title, but it’s clear that Sean Horan intends to end the series with a very strong message to everyone else ahead of Rio.

And they will need to hit the ground running in the toughest of the three pools. The game against Canada will be very interesting, but if New Zealand are not in the final with this team it will be a sensation.

Team: Shakira Baker (Waikato); Kelly Brazier (Bay of Plenty); Theresa Fitzpatrick (Auckland); Sarah Goss (captain) (Manawatu); Kayla McAlister (Auckland); Huriana Manuel (Auckland); Terina Te Tamaki (Waikato); Ruby Tui (Canterbury); Katarina Whata-Simpkins (Wellington); Renee Wickliffe (Counties Manukau); Niall Williams (Auckland); Portia Woodman (Counties Manukau)

Canada

A second slip-up at home last time round puts Canada in a tough pool in their bid to return to the podium. After a run of three finals in four tournaments, the plate was a set-back for John Tate's team - and the loss of Mandy Marchak a measurable blow. Even so the squad remains strong in depth, with the Maple Leafs reaching the final in London, and there is every chance that they will repeat theur turnaround after a similar home disappointment last season.

John Tait has made just two changes to the team that finished fifth in Langford, with Magali Harvey and Natasha Watcham-Roy rejoining the squad after both players had missed an extended period of time due to injury. Watcham-Roy returns to the team for the first time for nearly a year, her last tournament being last summer's Pan-Am Games, while this will be Harvey’s first tournament Dubai. Both played at the London Inivitational in Guildford last weekend  and their performance convinced Tait that both were ready to return. Three other players from Guildford who travel onto Clermont - Britt Benn, Megan Lukan and Karen Paquin.
 
Team: Britt Benn – (Guelph Redcoats) Napanee, ON; Hannah Darling – (Peterborough Pagans) Warsaw, ON; Bianca Farella – (Town of Mont Royal RFC) Montreal, QC; Magali Harvey - (Club de Rugby Quebec) Quebec City, QC ; Jen Kish – (Edmonton Rockers) Edmonton, AB; Ghislaine Landry – (Toronto Scottish) Toronto, ON ; Megan Lukan – (Unattached) Barrie, ON; Kayla Moleschi - (Williams Lake Rustlers) Williams Lake, BC; Karen Paquin - (Club de Rugby Quebec) Quebec City, QC; Kelly Russell - (Toronto Nomads) Bolton, ON; Natasha Watcham-Roy – (Hull Volant) Gatineau, QC; Charity Williams – (Markham Irish) Toronto, ON

Team:  TBA

Russia

Mixing up the squad and experimentation must come to an end for Russia with this tournament and they will be determined to return to the form that sent them to the final in Dubai. As with Spain, however, this round is really just preparation for the serious business in Dublin and there may be some temptation to tinker again - though a pool that pairs them with New Zealand and Canada leaves little room for error. Russia have to hit the ground running this time.

Team:  TBA

Japan

The World Series was hard from the Japanese from the start in Dubai, and has got steadily tougher as they have slipped from ninth in Dubai, to 10th in Sao Paulo and Atlanta, and finally 12th in Langford. To add to that also have the distraction of the on-going Asian XVs Championship.

That said, while they lost every game in Langford they were far from disgraced. Apart from being caned in their opening game against Canada, they pushed everyone else they met, especially eventual winners England who levelled at four tries each, losing out only because while England hit every conversion Japan could only slot one.

Even so, given this company, its looks like the bowl again for the Japanese.

Team: (From) Aya Takeuchi; Chiharu Nakamura; Keiko Kato; Ayaka Suzuki; Ano Kuwai; Marie Yamaguchi; Makiko Tomita; Chisato Yokoo; Kana Mitsugi; Noriko Taniguchi; Ai Nakamaru; Yume Ohkuroda; Takano Makotonozomi; Maki Takano; Mio Yamanaka

Pool C

Australia

Australia just need sixth place to win their first World Series , and who would bet against that, especially with Alicia Quirk, Charlotte Caslick and Emma Tonegato all back in the team. Overall it is arguably the strongest Australian squad of the season, and an ironed-on quarter-final place.

The only potential fly in the ointment is that the under-par performance in Langford means has given Australia a place in Pool C, which means a slightly more challenging quarter-final against a second-placed team from one of the other pools.

In practice it is hard to see that Tim Walsh would be happy with just sixth. With this team, and the final serious tournament before Rio, anything less than a place in the final will be a disappointment.

Team: Shannon Parry;  Sharni Williams;  Nicole Beck;  Tiana Penitani;  Emma Tonegato;  Evania Pelite;  Charlotte Caslick;  Chloe Dalton;  Amy Turner;  Alicia Quirk;  Emilee Cherry;  Ellia Green;

France

Playing at home is rarely a benefit in the Women’s Sevens World Series. Perhaps only the United States have managed to gain from playing in front of home supporters, but other hosts have found the added pressure a problem. As a result, it’s even more difficult to predict how France will perform at their first home tournament.

However, France are hardly unused to home sevens tournaments. They have hosted a round of the European Championship almost every year since women’s sevens began, and won their place in Rio at home last year.

For the final round of the series the team is still somewhat experimental. Roughly half of the squad – certainly Guiglion, Horta, Izar Ladagnous, Le Duff and Mayans - can be pretty sure of a ticket on the plane but not yet the rest. Play as well as they can play then a quarter-final is near certain for France; allow themselves to be lifted by the crowd then the final four is quite feasible. And after that – well, Clermont could get very noisy!

Team: Montserrat Amedee (Montpellier); Camille Grassineau (Bordeaux); Lina Guerin (Marcoussis); Elodie Guiglion (FFR); Fanny Horta (FFR); Shannon Izar (Lille MRCV); Caroline Ladagnous (Bobigny); Christelle Le Duff (RC Villelongue); Jade Le Pesq (Stade Rennais); Marjorie Mayans (Blagnac Saint-Orens); Chloé Pelle (Lille MRCV); Rose Thomas (Bordeaux); Jessy Tremouliere (Romagnat)

Fiji

It goes without saying that the potential is there, but the two North American legs were a major backward step for the Fijians whose hearts remain firmly on their sleeves. As well as problems with consistency they have to recover better from the occasional set-back, and a quarter-final slot could do that - though they will need to play far better than they have done, maybe all season, to achieve that. 

Coaches Ben Ryan and Iliesa Tanivula told reporters in Fiji, as the team left, that a quarter final spot is indeed their target this weekend. 

“We want to finish in the top eight but first we want to win our pool games,” Tabivula said. “Definitely it was exciting to watch and congratulation to Ben and the boys. We will try to emulate their performance but there is a huge task for the girls and we will enjoy rising to the occasion. We will take each game at a time and hopefully we get there. It is a tough pool but it is always good to come up against the best sides. Australia is leading the series and we play them first up,” 

He added debutants like Ebony Satala (winger) and Asena Roko (halfback) have proved themselves to be part of the team but more work is required for the Rio Olympics. “There are couples of new players putting their hands up. Things are getting exciting as we get closer to Rio. When we get back the players will join the boys in camp at the Uprising Beach Resort which will be the final phase of preparations for Rio.”

Team:  Brittany Coates, Talica Vodo, Ebony Satala, Jiowana Sauto, Viniana Riwai, Merewai Cumu, Miriama Naiobasali, Asena Roko, Rebecca Tavo, Ana Maria Roqica (c), Luisa Basei, Rusila Nagasau.

Ireland

After winning the bowl in Atlanta, Langford was a setp backwards and Ireland desperately need to come out of Clermont in positive form. Not only an Olympic sport but also Ireland's World Series place will be up for contention in Dublin next month and, given the tough draw they have been given there, Ireland must rediscover the sort of form that took them to their only quarter-final back in 2013. It will not be easy.

There are two changes to the squad from Atlanta and Canada, with Aoife Doyle and Susan Vaughan coming into the side. Both are making their first appearances this season, but have previous experience at this level.

Speaking ahead of departure, Anthony Eddy said: "We've been drawn into a challenging pool with France, Australia and Fiji. France will no doubt be looking to put in a good performance in front of a home crowd and Australia will have their sights on the overall 2015/16 World Series title, having won three of the four stages this season.

“We then meet Fiji in the final game on Saturday and they are always a tough side to play against. Since returning from Atlanta and Canada the players have been very focused and have been training well together so we will be looking to finish the World Series on a positive note this weekend."

Team: Ashleigh Baxter (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Aoife Doyle (Shannon/Munster); Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster); Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster); Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht); Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum/Leinster) (capt); Amee-Leigh Crowe (Railway Union/Munster); Sene Naoupu (Galwegians/Connacht); Audrey O'Flynn (Talent ID Programme); Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster); Susan Vaughan (Railway Union/Leinster); Megan Williams (St. Mary's)

Series standings:

 

 

DUB

BRA

USA

CAN

 

1

Australia

20

20

20

16

76

2

New Zealand

12

16

18

18

64

3

England

16

8

16

20

60

4

Canada

10

18

14

12

54

5

France

14

12

8

14

48

6

Russia

18

4

10

6

38

7

United States

2

14

12

8

36

8

Fiji

8

10

6

4

28

9

Spain

6

2

2

10

20

10

Brazil

3

6

-

3

12

11

Japan

4

3

3

1

11

12

Ireland

1

1

4

2

8

13

Colombia

-

-

1

-

1