Brazil aiming to bridge the gap in Houston
It is a little over a year since Brazil were crowned South American Women's Sevens champions for the eighth year running, an accolade that makes them the undisputed leading side in their region.
But Brazil have found life tougher on the wider international circuit, struggling to match their huge success in South America when tested on a global stage.
The talented Brazilians are, however, continuing to making improvements month by month in the lead-up to the South American regional qualifier for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 on 23-24 February, and they get another chance to test their progression next weekend in Houston at the second round of the IRB Women's Sevens World Series.
Brazil finished 12th in the first round of the Series in Dubai in December, and will be looking to emerge stronger this time out, from a pool which contains Russia, Australia and Japan.
Joao Nogueira, High Performance Manager at the Confederação Brasileira de Rugby, explains that preparations have been stepped up in recent months.
"We began our preparations for participating in the Women's World Sevens Series by spending three weeks in Canterbury, New Zealand, and training and playing with experienced local teams, which was very helpful. After we competed in Dubai in the first round, the players were given a break to celebrate Christmas and New Year but we've had a two week camp this month in Sao Paulo to prepare for Houston and we have been working all on areas of our game."
As to the prospect of playing against the likes of Australia, Japan and Russia in the pool stages, Nogueira believes his side understand fully the challenges ahead.
"We've already played all of the three teams in our pool before and we know they are all very good sides and that it will be very difficult. Our goal is to begin to reduce the gap between ourselves and the other sides that have been evident in other tournaments, and we obviously want to be a lot stronger on the scoreboard."
RWC Sevens qualifiers around the corner
With RWC Sevens qualifiers around the corner, where Brazil are favourites to land the South American berth despite the rapid improvement of sides like Argentina and Colombia, it's likely that the team could well be part of all of the remaining rounds of the Women's Series, giving them a huge window in which to improve on the road to Moscow.
As hosts of the first Olympic Games which will feature women's Sevens in 2016, Nogueira explains that there is huge focus for the women's rugby programme in Brazil now.
"During 2012, the Union invested a substantial amount of resources towards the women's game. The Brazilian Women's Series was established for the first time with five rounds of 12 club tournaments using six core teams, and that has been fantastic. We have also begun a physical and technical programme under the supervision of the Canterbury Rugby Football Union, which is designed to advance our players, so we are progressing well."
So what have the leading side in South America got to work on to continue to bridge the gap between themselves and the rest of the world?
"We have been the dominant team in the last eight years in South America, but all of the other countries in this region are developing very well and we need to work very hard to keep the leadership we have here now. We believe that the major focus there is in Brazil right now to develop the women's game is a real advantage we have over other neighbouring sides, and we must keep driving this forward."
Brazil have named their squad to travel to Houston, with newcomer Tais Balcon, a 22-year-old from Florianópolis, to make her debut, among an experienced squad.
Brazil Women's Sevens squad
Juliana Santos, Angelica Geveard, Julia Sards, Edna Santini, Paula Isibashi, Tais Balconi, Beatriz Silva, Beatrix Huhlbauer, Thais Cruz, Maira Behrendt, Luiza Campos, Mariana Ramalho.