The race to join the six teams who have already qualified for Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 continues this weekend as the southern French town of Malemort, to the east of Brive, stages the first of two tournaments on the Rugby Europe Women's Sevens Grand Prix Series.
New Zealand, Canada, Spain and USA automatically made it through to RWC Sevens 2018 in San Francisco after reaching the last four in Moscow in 2013, while Australia and Russia recently secured their place via the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
While Fiji and France look favourites to join them as a one of the four highest ranked world series sides - excluding the 2013 semi-finalists - at the end of the 2016-17 season, the Grand Prix Series offers another opportunity for all non-qualified European nations to be a part of the biggest sevens event since Rio 2016.
Regional qualifiers will decide the remaining eight places for RWC Sevens 2018, with the top two ranked sides from Europe booking their ticket to California. The second and final round of the Grand Prix Series takes place in Kazan, Russia, on 8-9 July.
England and Ireland, for example, could be looking to the Grand Prix Series event as a potential lifeline in terms of their RWC Sevens 2018 ambitions because both need a miracle to pip France to the that final qualification berth at the final round of the world series in Clermont-Ferrand on 24-25 June.
BUSY TWO WEEKS
All 12 of the Ireland squad that achieved seventh place in Langford have made the trip to France as they strive to further their RWC Sevens 2018 qualification bid one way or another.
"We have a busy two weeks ahead of us in France, with two big tournaments coming up. The Grand Prix Series will be very important for us this season as we look to secure a place at next year's World Cup,” acknowledged Ireland coach Anthony Eddy.
"Our focus is very much on the Malemort tournament this weekend, and although the last stage of the world series is just around the corner in Clermont, it's very much about getting the Grand Prix off to a good start."
Ireland will get the chance to follow up their victory over England in Langford on day one in Malemort, as they have been drawn together in Pool C alongside Italy and Portugal.
With captain Abbie Brown unavailable through injury, England’s squad includes uncapped development player Olivia Jones. The remaining 11 players have all appeared on the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series this season, including Joanne Watmore (pictured), Heather Fisher and Alice Richardson.
Last year’s European Grand Prix winners Russia are kept company in Pool A by Spain, the Netherlands and Poland. Pool B consists of hosts France, Belgium, Wales and Sweden.
Having never competed on the world series, the Rugby Europe event provides Wales with a rare opportunity to take on some of the best teams in the world.
They warmed up for the Malemort tournament with strong showings at events in Dublin and Amsterdam, while back in December their players formed part of an invitational side that claimed a title in Dubai.
Sian Williams will captain the side, which features several mainstays of Wales' 15s team in the likes of Dyddgu Hywel and Elinor Snowsill, as well as sevens specialists such as Jasmine Joyce and Sinead Breeze.
The action will be streamed live by Rugby Europe
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