HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens 2017

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Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens: HSBC Sevens World Series - Day One
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 01: Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga of New Zealand runs with the ball during day one of the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens - HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series on December 1, 2016 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

The fourth round of the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series will be hosted by Japan this weekend, in the Southern city of Kitakyushu. 12 teams, including the hosts Japan will battle it out in the inaugural event at the new Mikuni World Stadium from April 22-23. This could be the dress rehearsal for Japan, as they get ready to host the Olympic Games rugby sevens tournament in 2020.

The title-holders Australia are looking for their first title of the season. Meanwhile the English have boosted their squad with players from the Six Nations (unable to compete in Las Vegas). Brazil are out to keep their core status, while Fijiana is looking to cement their fourth placed spot in the table. Not that it will be as simple as ‘just turning up’–as demonstrated by Canada upsetting the leading sides at the Singapore Sevens–so anything is possible.

HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens: The LOWDOWN

Pool A – New Zealand, Russia, France, Japan

New Zealand

The Women’s Sevens Series leaders, New Zealand have called up ‘rookie strongirl’ Rebekah Cordero-Tufua to boost their forward power here in Japan. The 20-year old will be providing cover for the seasoned Sarah Goss and Ruby Tui, as they chase the maiden title in Japan.

‘Young firecracker’ Alena Sai’li adds depth and will be key, together with the hugely talented Kelly Brazier, Tyla Nathan-Wong and Portia Woodman.

Black Ferns Sevens squad: Ruby Tui, Alena Sai’li, Rebekah Cordero-Tufua, Niall Williams, Sarah Goss, Michaela Blyde, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Kelly Brazier, Katarina Whata, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Portia Woodman, Cheyelle Robins-Reti

Russia

The Russians currently sit fifth on the table with 34 points, and will try to make that fourth spot theirs by overpowering the Fijians who currently sit one place above them. A good onjective, as they will be looking for more consistency from their players especially on the second day.

Alena Mikhaltsova will be vital for them. along with lanky Baizat Khamidova and Maria Prestiak. They have the squad, it’s only consistency and urgency that has cost them games lately.

Russian Squad: Daria Noritsina, Arina Bystrova, Daria Bobkova, Alena Mikhaltsova, Baizat Khamidova, Ekaterina Kazakova, Marina Petrova, Marina Kukina, Snezhanna Kulkova, Elena Zdrokova, Yulia Ledovskaya, Maria Prestiak

France

Two debutantes have been called in by coach David Courteix, together with four seasoned players to boost the French squad in Kitakyushu. Caroline Drouin and Seraphine Okemba will debut with Le Bleus, as they welcome back Jade Le Pesq; who featured in the Six Nations.

Also, making their returns are Camille Grassineau and Pauline Biscarat, together with Lenaig Corson who has been missing from the series in the past year. Rose Thomas takes over the captaincy from the injured Fanny Horta–ending her 16 consecutive tournaments run in the series. How the team travel without her is a key, as Horta is such an inspiration.

Le Bleus squad: Pauline Biscarat, Lenaig Corson, Caroline Drouin, Laurein Fourcade, Camille Grassineau, Lina Guerin, Clemence Gueucier, Elodie Guiglion, Jade Le Pesq, Seraphine Okemba, Chloe Pelle, Rose Thomas (c).

Japan

They secured their place in the 2017/18 World Series in Hong Kong only a fortnight ago, and will be out to tell the big girls ‘we are here to compete’. They are not new to the serious either and the Sakura bring with them a certain flair that sets them apart.

World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier Hong Kong – Women’sJapan Celebrate the 2017-18 qualification on day two of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Qualifier in Hong Kong on 07 April, 2017. Photo credit: Michael Lee – KLC fotos

Strongwoman Mateitoga Bogidraumainadave will be their go-to-girl [naturally] together with Noriko Taniguchi and Honoka Tsutsumi. Expect much from the home town girls, but Day Two is critical if they wish to hold any gold.

Sakura Sevens squad: Raichieru Miyo Bituvakalolo, Mateitoga Bogidraumainadave, Ano Kuwai, Chiharu Nakamura, Noriko Taniguchi, Yuki Ito, Mayu Shimizu, Emii Tanaka, Iroha Nagata, Yume Hirano, Honoka Tsutsumi, Mio Yamanaka.

Pool B – Australia, Fiji, Ireland, Brazil

Australia

The Australians will be looking for a good outing in the second half of the season. They have brought in more young talent to mold for the future, like Dominique Du Toit and Demi Hayes. It is a great opportunity for the new girls to raise their hands.

Shannon Parry takes the lone leadership role, with co-captain Sharni Williams ruled out with injury. Emma Tonegato is still nursing injury and feisty Mahalia Murphy continues to alternate with Elia Green on the wing. The Aussie girls have good prospects, with the young rookies to compliment Charlotte Caslick, Chloe Dalton, Alicia Quirk and Emilee Cherry.

Australian Squad: Shannon Parry, Mahalia Murphy, Chloe Dalton, Demi Hayes, Georgina Friedrichs, Evania Pelite, Charlotte Caslick, Alicia Quirk, Emma Sykes, Brooke Walker, Emilee Cherry, Dominique Du Toit, Elia Green.

Fiji

Fijiana are looking to reach their first ever semifinals in the sevens series. Boosted by their consecutive fifth place finish, the Island Girls will give it their all, no doubt. Sitting fourth on the ladder is fabulous, and they want to hold on to that to gain automatic qualification to the Sevens Rugby World Cup in San Francisco.

Viniana Riwai returns from injury and is the only change to the side. Watch for the twinkle-toed Tima Ravisa, the aggressive Rusila Nagasau, elusive Lavenia Tinai and the feisty Ana Maria Roqica.

Fijiana squad: Merewai Cumu, Asinate Savu, Raijeli Daveua, Ana Maria Naimasi, Talica Vodo, Priscilla Siata, Rusila Nagasau, Lavenia Tinai, Ana Maria Roqica, Miriama Naiobasali, Timaima Ravisa, Viniana Riwai.

Ireland

The Irish have recalled three of their senior players for this Asian leg of the series together with a 19-year old debutante Katie Heffernan. These girls come in for Alison Miller, Susan Vaughan and Katie Fitzhenry.

February 3rd 2017, HSBC Rugby Sevens Series Day 1; Irelands Stacey Flood hands off an advancing Fiji player in their round robin match; Ireland won the game 19-1 (Photo by Nigel Owen/Action Plus via Getty Images)

Watch the ever improving Irish to ‘dazzle the crowds’. Megan Williams and Stacey Flood have been instrumental for them all season long–and that is sure to continue–together with Lucy Mulhall and the speedy Aimee Leigh Murphy Crowe.

Ireland Squad: Ashleigh Baxter, Claire Keohane, Kim Flood, Stacey Flood, Louise Galvin, Katie Heffernan, Lucy Mulhall, Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe, Sene Naoupu, Audrey O’Flynn, Hannah Tyrell, Megan Williams, Emma Murphy.

Brazil

With Japan qualifying for next seasons World Series, the Brazilians are out to maintain their core status. They currently sit last and will be going all out to jump above the ‘next in the line’ Spain. With the talented Paula Ishabashi and Beatriz Futuro, together with Haline Scratut and Edna Santini, this group will be the ones to take the lead here in Japan. With only two rounds to go after this, the time to move is limited.

Brazilian squad: Mariana Nicolau Da Silva, Luiza Campos, Isadora Cerullo, Edna Santini, Paula Ishabashi, Maira Behrendt, Haline Scratut, Beatriz Futuro Muhlbauer, Cleice Lopes, Raquel Kochhann, Bianca Dos Santos Silva, Claudia Teles.

Pool C – Canada, United States, Spain, England

Canada

Boosted by their Men’s sides first ever Sevens Series title win in Singapore, the Canadian Women’s team will be buoyed by the result naturally. With that feel-good factor flowing, the Maple Leafs will be out for their second title of the season. Only recently at the Sydney Sevens, the two North American sides (Canada & USA) defied the odds to feature in the final won by Canada. They outshone the much fancied Oceania giants Australia and New Zealand. This weekend, two sides are matched together here in Japan–who knows, they might surprise us all over again, just like their Men’s sides last weekend.

Head Coach John Tait has made two changes to the side, roping in Ashley Steacy and Julia Greenshields. The duo come in for the Kayla Moleschi, who has been ruled out of the rest of the season with a foot injury. As well, young Caroline Crossley adds her youth and exuberance to the squad. Losing their most experienced player will hurt them, but they have enough depth in the side to fill the void. John Tait told worldrugby.org;

“This team has lots of ability and I am excited to see how we match up with some players taking on bigger roles through the second half of the series.”

Canadian squad: Britt Benn, Hannah Darling, Bianca Farella, Julia Greenshields, Sara Kaljuvee, Jen Kish, Ghislaine Landry, Megan Lukan, Breanne Nicholas, Ashley Steacy, Natasha WatchamRoy, Charity Williams.

United States

Team USA have called up two new debutantes, in Megan Sanders and Jordan Gray to join their squad for Japan. They will add depth to the side, who currently sit sixth in the table. Naya Tapper has had an outstanding breakthrough series; her long strides can sometimes remind you of their other strider Perry Baker in the Men’s side.

February 4th 2017, Allianz Stadium, Sydney, NSW, Australia; HSBC Rugby Sevens; Women’s final match, USA versus Canada; Naya Tapper (USA) breaks a tackle and makes a try scoring run down the wing; Canada won 21-17; (Photo by Nigel Owen/Action Plus via Getty Images)

Alev Kelter, who has blossomed in her leadership role, will direct the side and will be relying on her senior players to work with her as they eye another good outing.

American squad: Joanne Fa’avesi, Kristen Thomas, Kelly Griffin, Nicole Heavirland, Ryan Carlyle, Alev Kelter (c), Naya Tapper, Jordan Gray, Kelsi Stockert, Megan Sanders, Bulou Mataitoga, Nicole Snyder.

Spain

The Spanish will be without Berta Garcia for the first time in a long, long time. But they still have the players who can pack the proverbial punch. Rookies Maria Losada, Olivia Fresneda and Amaia Erbina Arana have really grown into their roles, and will continue to compliment Patricia Garcia and Barbara Pla. From what fans and commentators have seen, they need to play more off Iera Echebarria Fernandez, as she works the flanks.

Spanish squad: Maria Losada, Olivia Fresneda, Amaia Erbina Arana, Patricia Garcia, Uribarri Barrutieta, Nerea Agruirre, Barbara Pla, Sabina Hurtado, Maria Casado, Raquel Garcia, Iera Echebarria Fernandez, Maria Ribera,

England

The English Roses have been boosted, with players joining from their Grand Slam winning Six Nations team. Soon seasoned sevens campaigners Katy McLean, Emily Scott and Amy Wilson-Hardy all return for this inaugural Japanese tournament. This should be the concern of all the other sides–especially the New Zealand women.

Also returning is the hard running Heather Fisher, who missed the Las Vegas trip through injury. On the flip-side, young Megan Jones will debut for the Roses. As the English currently sit down in eighth on the table, after disappointing results in their last two outings, this added experience in the team will bring back stability as they try to get their season back together.

“Our goal remains to earn qualification for next year’s World Cup….it’s all about delivering a result to try to improve our overall standing” assistant coach James Bailey said on worldrugby.org.

English squad: Abbie Brown (c), Heather Fisher, Jo Watmore, Katy McLean, Megan Jones, Emily Scott, Alice Richardson, Holly Aitchson, Sarah McKenna, Millie Wood, Deborah Fleming, Amy Wilson-Hardy.

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Can the New Zealand ‘Sevens Sisters’ Continue Their Run?

At the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens, it’s anyones title to take. At the moment, the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series title is also finely balanced. Defending champs Australia lay second on the table, just six points adrift of the leaders New Zealand. Canada and Fiji sit above the chasing pack, and with good focus, could get one over the traditional ‘queens of the series’.

For Last Word On Rugby, England have a revamped side and are the wildcard threat–so too are the United States. All of this will make the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens even more exciting to watch.

NOTE: Final team lists are be announced before Day One, April 22.

“Main photo credit”

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