Crucial Stop For Women's World Series
Crucial Stop For Women's World Series
The 12 team captains gathered inside the Kokura Castle Japanese Garden on Thursday ahead of the third round of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series this weekend.
New Zealand are the defending HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens champions after beating Canada in the inaugural final last year, but captain Sarah Goss knows that it will not be easy to retain the title with a tough pool draw and coming down off the emotional high of winning the first-ever Commonwealth Games women's sevens gold medal in Australia last weekend.
"The vibes in our team at the moment are pretty positive. To come out and win that tournament was really special and it has been a hard high I suppose to come down from to prepare for this weekend," said Goss.
"All we want to do is keep growing our game around the world and the amount of exposure it [the final with Australia] has got for the game, not just sevens but 15s, is going to be hugely exciting in the future.
"We have got a tough pool against USA, France and Japan. It is going to be a tough first day but the way the girls are preparing at the moment it is going to be awesome and I can't wait to get out there in front of the Japanese fans."
Series leaders Australia, who have begun the 2018 series with a perfect 12 wins from 12 in claiming the Dubai and Sydney titles, will begin a new era with John Manenti now at the helm after Tim Walsh brought the curtain down on his hugely successful reign as coach with the silver medal in the Commonwealth Games.
"We were very disappointed but extremely proud of the silver medal and the spectacle of women's rugby that Australia and New Zealand were able to put on in that final was fantastic. At the end of the day women's rugby was the winner and we're very pleased with the result and looking forward to the challenges ahead in Japan," said captain Shannon Parry.
"I think it is going to be huge, we have very big pool matches against China, Ireland and Spain. We don't really know a lot about China, then you have got Spain and Ireland who haven't really played since Sydney so they are going to come out charging. We have done our homework but we are really just looking out there and having a crack.
"It is a start of a new era but John Manenti has been in the pipeline with us well before Rio. He has slipped straight in, nothing has changed so we're really looking forward to having a good game this weekend and hopefully we can come away with a win."
Chiharu Nakamura, meanwhile, urged Japanese fans to come out and support the host nation, warning them that they would miss out on an historic victory for the Sakura Sevens if they didn't come to the Mikuni World Stadium this weekend!
"I am looking forward to the tournament as it is taking place in Japan in front of our family and friends on home turf. There aren't many opportunities where we play in Japan representing our country so it is a very important experience," the Japan captain said.
"The first day is always important as we will be playing against the top eight seeded teams and we hope to grab a victory and try to tie it into another win."
Japan will be one of two Asian sides playing in Kitakyushu with China as the invitational team alongside the 11 core teams. China come into the tournament on a high, having won the Hong Kong qualifier a fortnight ago to secure a core team place on the 2019 series, and captain Yan Meiling wants to see her team showcase the best of their play.
"This is the first time in four years since China played on the world series and rugby fans in China are very excited to be back on the series," she said. "In Kitakyushu we want our team to achieve our personal best and play to our advantages. Whatever the result is I think it will be the best for the team."
Leading the charge in points scored are Alev Kelter (63) and Naya Tapper (55) who collectively own 118 points this season, ranked as the 1st and 2nd highest scorers on the team (respectively) through two tournament stops.
Along with Kelter and Tapper, Hope Rogers is beginning to make waves, herself. Having only traveled to Sydney this season, Rogers owns a wealth of rugby experience in both fifteens and sevens, dotting down 3 times alone last stop. And, speaking of experience, Head Coach Richie Walker adds another crossover star to the roster this weekend. 2017 Women's World Cup and sevens series standouts Kristen Thomas an Kate Zackary join the action for their first HSBC tournaments this season.
Adding to fresh faces, 2016 Rio Olympian Kelly Griffin also jumps back on the circuit with newcomer Neariah Persinger making her Sevens series debut after leaving an impression on Eagle coaches during the Falcons' 2018 Okinawa Sevens Invitational.
"With the long break between the Australia stop and the Japan stop we were very lucky that we got to play Australia in a 4 match series in Las Vegas. We also got to play Canada and Japan at the training center which was very helpful for us," said USA Head Coach Rickie Walker. "We have a very tough pool and we need to be at our best to qualify for the Cup quarters. New Zealand is one of the best teams in the world that very rarely makes mistakes so we have to make even less. They will also be coming from the Commonwealth Games which I think will benefit those sides. France is one of the top nations and proved very hard for us to beat as they are fast and physical and we have to match that. Japan is the host nation and -- no matter who it is -- host nations generally step up, so we have our work cut out for us."
Competing in Pool B, the Women's Sevens will kick off Kitakyushu Sevens on Fri, Apr. 20 against 6th place France, who currently sits just two points behind the Eagles in the overall standings. A tough contest against Sydney Sevens silver winner and overall 2nd place New Zealand will be next; followed by 12th place home team Japan to close out pool play.
WOMEN'S SEVENS ROSTER | 2018 HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens
Nicole Heavirland (C)
WOMEN'S SEVENS STAFF | 2018 HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens
Head Coach - Richie Walker
Athletic Trainer - Sarah Leslie
Head of Physical Preparation - Jon Hood
Analyst - Dave Gardner
Team Manager - Liz Strohecker