Women's Series debutants worth a watch
In her latest column for the official Women's Sevens World Series website, Scrumqueens.com editor Ali Donnelly assesses the Series challengers and also looks at the sides set to make their debuts in Guangzhou.
At the halfway stage in the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series the race to be crowned overall winners is heating up ahead of the final two rounds in China and the Netherlands.
New Zealand remain top of the table, courtesy of a first and a fourth place finish in Dubai and Houston, but Australia and England are hot on their coat tails with both likely to make a real push for points in China later this month.
With the pools now announced for the Guangzhou Women's Sevens in China on 30-31 March, though, it will be just as fascinating to keep an eye on the three Series debutants, Fiji, Ireland and Tunisia all exciting prospects in international women’s Sevens.
All three have qualified for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow in June and none will be quiet about coming forward at this tournament where they will want to make their mark.
Tunisia came through the African qualifying process very impressively. Prior to the tournament, where they came out on top ahead of sides like Uganda and Kenya, Tunisia had already shown huge promise by beating a Dutch development side in a warm-up series in Holland, and having had good success in various African tournaments. Tunisia have not been handed an easy pool, though, with New Zealand and Netherlands tough tests and Brazil coming into the competition on the back of another successful South American championship.
Ireland's women flying high
Ireland are in fine form in the fifteens game at the moment and with a heavy contingent of players from their excellent Six Nations campaign also likely to be in China, a feel-good factor could go a long way in helping them through a tough-looking pool. They face vastly more experienced sides from Australia and Canada and an improving Japan. Ireland impressed in the qualifying tournaments last summer, though, where they showed that despite a lack of exposure in the short form of the game, they have enough talent to transfer to Sevens very well.
The third of the Series debutants are Fiji and they will be stronger for the tough path they have been through to reach the World Cup. They finished third to New Zealand and Australia in Oceania and then took on the best of Asia to secure their place, doing so in some style by beating Japan and China in the semis and final. They’re pooled with the Chinese again this month and, while USA and England will present them with tough challenges, their unknown element will certainly be in their favour.
At the top of the table, New Zealand (34), Australia (30), England (28) and Russia and South Africa (both 24) are battling it out in the top places. Fresh from success in Houston and with such a strong squad, England would seem best-placed to chase down New Zealand at the top. Having made up for an average showing in Dubai in round one, they were superb in Texas, twice beating the kiwi girls, and have clawed back the gap at the top to just six points.
Just outside that top bracket, USA are also well-placed and they showed real progression on home soil at the last round, while Canada have so far failed to live up to the form they showed over the past couple of seasons and will be desperate to get back to winning ways.
Highlights: Round 2, Houston
Ali Donnelly is the editor of Women's Rugby website, Scrumqueens.com.