Twelve nations set for battle to win spot on Women's World Sevens Series in Hong Kong

Twelve nations set for battle to win spot on Women's World Sevens Series in Hong Kong

Twelve teams from around the world will battle it out in Hong Kong on Friday and Saturday for the chance to join the IRB Women's Sevens World Series 2014/15 as core teams.

Twelve teams from around the world will battle it out in Hong Kong on Friday and Saturday for the chance to join the IRB Women's Sevens World Series 2014/15 as core teams.

The semi-finalists of this qualifier tournament will join defending champions New Zealand, runners-up Australia, Canada, England, Russia, USA and Spain at all six events of the Series, which kicks off in Dubai on 4-5 December. The top four teams on the 2014/15 Series will qualify for Rugby Sevens' debut at the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

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Find out more about the participating teams and their pools for the qualifier at the Shek Kip Mei Stadium.

POOL A : FRANCE, CHINA, SOUTH AFRICA, MEXICO

France are still on a high from their third place finish at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 on home soil last month. Seven of their players in Hong Kong were part of that WRWC squad, namely Marjorie Mayans, Jennifer Troncy, Christelle Le Duff, Caroline Ladagnous, Elodie Guiglion, Camille Grassineau and Shannon Izar. Ranked eighth in the 2013/14 Series after only participating in half of the tournaments, France will want to ensure their place at all six events next season.

China are Asia’s number one side in women’s Sevens. They recently beat Hong Kong 38-7 in the final of the first ARFU Asian Sevens Series women’s event in Hong Kong. They are no strangers to the Series, having participated in the USA and China rounds in 2013/14 and lost in the Bowl final in each event. There are many top-notch athletes in their squad as a number of players have crossed over from different sports that have decided to join China's high performance programme.

Ten members of the South African squad participated at WRWC 2014, where they finished 10th after losing four of their five matches. Similarly to France, coach Renfred Dazel admitted that one of the main challenges was that the team had little time to prepare for the competition following the World Cup. Recently, results for South Africa have been very encouraging as they won the CAR Women’s Sevens title this year by beating hosts Kenya 15-0 in the final to qualify for this tournament. The team also reached the Bowl final at the Amsterdam Sevens, beating core team Spain in the semi-final but losing to the Netherlands in the final of their only event on the 2013/14 Series.

Also known locally as Las Serpientes (the Snakes), Mexico recently went to Canada for a training camp and participated in a club rugby tournament, losing in the final to their hosts. They ranked second in the NACRA (North America Caribbean Rugby Association) Championship in 2013 behind Canada and are looking to increase their international experience during this qualifier in Hong Kong.

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POOL B : FIJI, JAPAN, ARGENTINA, KENYA

They only played in two events in 2013/14, but Fiji caught the attention with some positive results after winning the Bowl at the opening round in Dubai and then reaching a surprise Cup semi-final in Guangzhou with impressive wins over England and Russia. Ten players selected for the Hong Kong qualifiers were part of the squad in China and securing a core team place is a real possibility under coach Iliesa Tanivula, the former Fiji men's coach. With Sevens a way of life in Fiji, the women's team have been making strides forward and will want to show in Hong Kong that the semi-final was no fluke when they kick-off the qualifier against Argentina on Friday.

Japan are another of the teams to watch out for in Hong Kong. The Sakura Sevens reached Cup quarter-finals in their two events last season, in the USA and Brazil with wins over core team Spain, as well as Argentina and the Netherlands. Japan and China are constantly fighting to be at the top in Asia. The team recently travelled to Amsterdam for a training camp and played friendly games against the Netherlands, which resulted in one win and one loss.

Argentina were invited to play at the Sao Paulo round of the 2013/14 Series and will have gained plenty from the experience, despite finishing bottom after losing their final match to Ireland 17-12. They are looking forward to a rematch against Japan as their previous encounter saw them lose 36-0 during the pool stages. Argentina has played in three international tournaments previously and are looking forward to the qualifier in Hong Kong to extend their experience.

Kenya did not participate in the 2013/14 Series but the Lionesses aim to perform just as well as their men’s side on the world stage. Kenya are already familiar with Hong Kong, having taken part in the Women’s Invitational Sevens tournament in March. They reached the Bowl final then, losing 33-7 to their hosts. “We have been in training since early May, starting out with a lot of focus on conditioning. We are now working on techniques and tactics, focusing on things such as attacking and defensive formations as well as patterns of play,” admitted head coach Kevin Wambua.

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POOL C : BRAZIL, NETHERLANDS, PORTUGAL, HONG KONG

Brazil played in all five rounds of the 2013/14 Series, their best placing being eighth in both Dubai and Amsterdam. While the 2014/15 Series will determine four qualifiers for Rio 2016, Brazil’s men and women’s teams as host nation are automatically qualified. However, that doesn't mean that Brazil aren't determined to secure core team status for the Series and will hope to make the most of their experience on the Series against the world's top teams. Brazil travelled to California last month for a training camp and had the opportunity to play a few friendly matches against the USA Eagles. There are a lot of expectations for the Brazilian team in Hong Kong and they will have a lot of local and international support.

The Netherlands will be missing one of their star players in Kelly van Harskamp, who announced she was “temporarily taking a step down from a career in rugby” a month ago. However, they can count on the experience of players such as captain Linda Franssen and Tessa Veldhuis to bring their top game. One match not to miss during the pool stages will be their encounter with Brazil as their 5-0 loss denied the Dutch a place in the Cup quarter-finals of their home event in May. The Netherlands were the first to create a professional women's Sevens set-up and Chris Lane's charges will be determined to regain the core team status they enjoyed in the inaugural Series in 2012/13.

Portugal have not had many opportunities to play on the international scene this year but the Lobas (the Wolves) did well in the FIRA Grand Prix Series 2014 and finished sixth out of 12 European teams. Portugal have already played against the Netherlands in France in June this year, losing 17-0 to them. They will most definitely be looking forward to a rematch against the Dutch in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong have recently made headlines with the arrival of their new coach, Black Ferns legend Anna Richards. A four-time World Cup winner, she will be hope that the home support can again inspire her players. Hong Kong recently reached the final of the first Asian Sevens Series last month, beating Japan and losing in the final to China. Many of the Sevens players were also part of the 15s squad that were runners-up at the Asian 4 Nations Championship earlier this year.