The 2016/17 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series kicks off this weekend, as the Aussie Women chase another Dubai Sevens title. One of only three tournaments on the sevens series beside Las Vegas and the Sydney Sevens, where fans get to watch both the Men and Women compete, and the women open the Dubai Sevens Weekend on Thursday.

The Olympic Gold Medalist Australian side are the defending Series, and Dubai Sevens champions. Again, they will enter as favourites coming off a tremendous calendar year. They will face challenges of course.

Olympic Silver Medalist New Zealand will be going all out to regain their title that the Aussie side took off them. In addition to the Kiwis, look no further then the English and Canadians to be among the fiercest challenges on the series.

There are 12 teams in the Dubai competition this year, while Brazil are one the new core side’s. South Africa are the invitational side for this tournament.

It will be an interesting season, with new players and many new horizons which the game will reach through television and social media. The World Rugby support will bring attention to the women’s game. A growth area in many regions, the Sevens game is an ideal touch-point for fans and stakeholders.

Here is the breakdown of the Women’s pools in the desert city.

Pool A (Australia, USA, Russia, South Africa)

Australia

Fresh from their wins at the Central Coast Sevens and Oceania Sevens, the Aussies are here for business in the desert. The Olympic Gold Medalists have brought with them seven of their stars from Rio. World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Charlotte Caslick is among them.

The side will be led by co-captains Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry, continuing from their role last season. Joining them are the feisty Alicia Quirk, fleet-footed Chloe Dalton, elusive Emilee Cherry and speedster Emma Tonegato.

Mahalia Murphy, Georgia Friedrichs and Emma Sykes are rewarded with their recent efforts in Suva and the Central Coast matches. They are young and energetic, which adds a lethal dimension to the Aussies game.

”The entire squad understands our recent success will make us the team to beat going into the World Series and this is a challenge we are really looking forward to overcoming” coach Tim Walsh told worldrugby.com.

Aussie Squad: Sharni Williams, Shannon Parry, Charlotte Caslick, Chloe Dalton, Tiana Penitani, Brooke Anderson, Georgie Friedrichs, Emilee Cherry, Emma Sykes, Alicia Quirk, Mahalia Murphy, Emma Tonegato.

United States

It will be Richie Walker’s first full season with the Women’s Sevens Eagles and he has named five uncapped players. Four, who were part of the touring XV’s squad in France, will join them here.

Rookie 18 year old Kayla Canett will debut with Cheta Emba. Fijian Bulou Mataitoga together with Nicole Strasko and Kristen Sommer will debut also. Joining them from France are, hard running Joanne Fa’avesi, Alev Kelter, Lauren Doyle and Ryan Carlyle.

Good news emerged from the States this week, with the sixth round of the 2016/17 sevens series being announced. Las Vegas will now host both men and women in March, in a terrific move for the sports development. The US women will be looking forward to building towards that home event.

United States Squad: Cheta Emba, Ryan Carlyle, Kate Zackary, Alev Kelter, Nicole Heavirland, Lauren Doyle, Naya Tapper, Joanne Fa’avesi, Nicole Strasko, Kayla Canett, Kristine Sommer, Bulou Mataitoga.

South Africa

They were unlucky not to feature in Rio as their Olympic Committee deemed them un-competitive, to represent their nation. Their spot was given up to Kenya. The Renfred Dazell coached side is back in 2016/17 to reclaim some lost glory.

South African Squad: Phumeza Gadu, Veroeshka Grain (c), Zenay Jordaan, Jacqueline Kriel, Nomsa Mokwai, Lamla Momoti, Zintle Mpupha, Marithy Pienaar, Nadine Roos, Mathrin Simmers, Christelene Steinhobel, Eloise Webb

Pool B (New Zealand, France, Fiji, Ireland)

New Zealand

They will be playing under new mentor Alan Bunting for the first time and he brings with him lot’s of experience. The former Kiwi sevens rep has brought in some new players to fill the void left by Huriana Manuel and Kayla McAlister, and the retired Honey Hiremeni.

Fresh from their national duties with the Black Ferns, Portia Woodman and Kelly Brazier will spearhead them campaign in the desert. Niall Williams, together with Sarah Goss and crafty Tyla Nathan-Wong are the other senior members in the team.

New Zealand Sisters Squad: Ruby Tui, Shakira Baker, Jordon Webber, Niall Williams, Sarah Goss (c), Michaela Blyde, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Kelly Brazier, Tenika Wilison, Katarina Whata-Simpskins, Portia Woodman, Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga

Travelling reserves: Jess Drummond, Danielle Paenga

France

The French are the most unpredictable side on the series, like their Men’s side. They will be led by Fanny Horta again with Camille Grassineau, Lin Guerin and Marjorie Mayans as her lieutenants.

Les Bleus squad: Montserrat Amedee, Pauline Biscarat, Caroline Boujard, Mathilde Coutouly, Laurein Fourcade, Camille Grasasineau, Lin Guerin, Fanny Horta (c), Marjorie Mayans, Carla Neissen, Joanna Sainlo, Rose Thomas.

Fiji

Iliesa Tanivula regains full control of the Fijiana side, who are missing five players from Rio. However, captain fantastic Ana Maria Roqica will rely on senior players to help her through the series.

Hard tackling Lavenia Tinai, straight running Rusila Nagasau will be vital this weekend. In addition to Tima Ravisa and Viniana Riwai, Raijeli Daveau will also be one to watch.

Fijiana Squad: Miriama Naiobasali, Rusila Nagasau, Merewai Cumu, Tima Tamoi, Pricilla Siata, Adi Wainikiti Naselesele, Ana Maria Roqica (c), Tima Ravisa, Viniana Riwai, Lavenia Tinai, Asena Yalewalili, Ana Maria Naimasi, Raijeli Daveua.

Ireland

With the recent success of their Men’s National XV’s team, who can ever count out the feisty Irish girls. The Lucy Mulhall led side will give their all come Thursday.

Irish Squad: Ashleigh Baxter, Nicole Cronin, Aoife Doyle, Katie Fitzhenry, Kim Flood, Stacey Flood, Alison Miller, Lucy Mulhall (c), Emma Murphy, Aimee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe, Hannah Tyrell, Megan Williams.

Pool C (Canada, England, Spain, Brazil)

Canada

The Canadians will be without the injured Jen Kish but will rely on the experienced Ghislaine Landry to lead them to victory in Dubai.

Bianca Farella,  Britt Benn, Megan Luke and Natasha Watcham-Roy will spearhead their campaign. Farella is one to watch, along with Landry. The explosive team has the potential to lead the series, given a good opening Dubai Sevens weekend.

Canadian Squad: Britt Benn, Hannah Darling, Bianca Farella, Julia Greenshields, Sara Kaljuvee, Ghislaine Landry (c), Megan Luke, Kayla Moleschi, Beanne Nicholas, Ashley Steacy, Natasha Watcham-Roy, Charity Williams.

England

The English dominated the United Kingdom side at the Rio Olympics. They are hoping to build on this fine form, for a better 2016/17 season in the series.

Sadly for them, they have lost Emily Scarratt for the tournament and will be led this weekend by Abbie Brown.

English Squad: Natasha Brennan, Abbie Brown (c), Lauren Cattell, Heather Fisher, Deborah Fleming, Katie Mason, Fran Matthews, Alice Richardson, Kelly Smith, Jo Watmore, Amy Wilson-Hardy, Millie Wood.

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Who Will Reign in Dubai?

Australia looks good on paper and has had a good build up, however everyone is out to get them. The Kiwis and Canadians pose the biggest threat to the Aussies. On the other hand, the French and English look good, so that group are the leading challenges.

Russia and Ireland, together with Fijiana could create upsets. The giant killers however would be the Spanish. The Brazilians and South Africans will learn more from this outing, and all together the Dubai Sevens Weekend is the perfect beginning for a full six leg Sevens Series.

Follow All the results and updates from the Dubai Sevens here on LWOR with Scott Hornell and Jovilisi Waqa.

“Main photo credit”

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