PHILADELPHIA, PA – Here is a broad look at the 2015-2016 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, which is set to kick-off this week in Dubai. We’ll take a quick look at the sides and story lines we expect to be prominent this season.
World Rugby has said they aren’t done announcing tournaments, but here is the schedule as we know it now.
- Dubai, December 3-4
- Sao Paulo, February 20-21
- Atlanta, April 8-9
- Langford, British Columbia, April 16-17
All tournaments will be streamed via World Rugby.
11 nations are competing as the core sides. At each tournament, an additional side will be invited to compete. The core nations are New Zealand, Canada, Australia, England, USA, France, Russia, Fiji, Spain, Ireland, and Japan.
The series has belonged to New Zealand – they won 4 of 6 tournaments last season – and that dominance is unlikely to change this year. The squad includes reigning women’s sevens player of the year, Portia Woodman, as well as a host of strong attackers like Kayla McAlister. Making her debut at Dubai is Niall Williams. It is possible both she and her brother, Sonny Bill, will end up at Rio together representing New Zealand.
Though any tournament New Zealand don’t win will be a slight upset, there is a cluster of teams good enough to push New Zealand and keep their fingers crossed: England, Canada, Australia, USA, and France.
Canada and Australia each won a tournament last year, with Canada just edging Australia in the final series’ standings. Australia, though, is the more natural rival for the Kiwis. Head Coach Tim Walsh, speaking about Dubai: “It’s round one of what is a big year for Women’s Sevens and we’re keen to get off to a strong start and stamp our authority on the series.
“We’ve kept the core group together for a couple of seasons now, and this consistency of selection is resulting in improved team performances and individual growth.” A look at the statistics from last season’s tournaments show that Australia were ahead of Canada in most categories, and a look at last year’s matches show they are closer to matching the Kiwis’ pace and width.
One of Canada’s strengths has been possession. Captain Jen Kish is the embodiment of the fierce yet not-always-flashy persona of the side. Missing out on Dubai, Bianca Farella likely will be an important figure for Canada if they are to again finish top 3.
England have to balance the series squad with one eye on the larger Great Britain side that will be selected for Rio. “Our approach as we go through the World Series will be to utilise the depth of what is a very strong squad as we go through to the Olympic year,” said Head Coach Simon Middleton. “We need the players to get an ample amount of game time so we can look at them with Rio in mind. Initially for Dubai, we’re going with an experienced squad with the aim to finish high in the series table so we can aim for a top three seeding in the Olympics.” Getting ahead of Canada and Australia will not be easy for England.
USA and France will have to take some big strides forward to crack into the Top 3. More detailed thoughts on the USA season are available here. France won the European Grand Prix early last summer, qualifying them for the Olympics, but the two legs were a scrappy affair. Any series stop at which they reach the Cup semi-finals must be considered a success. Perhaps it is my national pride – perhaps it is because the USA is hosting a tournament – but the USA seems the more likely of these two to win a tournament.
The bottom group is Spain, Fiji, Russia, Ireland, and Japan. All of these sides have succeeded in between the end of the last World Series and the start of this season.
Spain won the European Repechage in Lisbon in July to earn a spot in the Global Repechage which will determine the final team going to Rio. The results weren’t always there for Spain in last season’s World Series, but they showed some real promise.
In the Oceania Qualifier, Fiji stomped over Samoa 55-0 to earn their Olympic spot. Fiji have new athletes, like Jiowana Sauto and former net-baller Vaiti Waqatabu, and coach Chris Cracknell is putting out plenty of positive energy for Fiji on twitter. Most of the 7s-loving world would be happy to see a more competitive Fiji, and this series we might get it.
In the European Grand Prix, Russia won the first leg and France won the second. Russia’s second place Grand Prix finish also sees them through to the Global Repechage. As the teams at the top keep stepping forward, it seems unlikely that Russia has the athletes to keep pace this season.
Finally, Ireland and Japan both won their way into core team status in August. Playing well enough to keep that core status will be important to the long-run success of both programs.
With the abbreviated series, there will be no matches to waste for any of the sides. While all sides will be thinking about Rio, there is no preparation better than winning.
That’s it… Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Jake Frechette, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Audrey Youn, Akweley Okine, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.