The return of rugby sevens to the Olympic stage next month (26-31 July) will put the women’s game under the spotlight once again with some of the world’s top players set to shine at this year’s global gathering.
It is close to five years since Australia defeated New Zealand 24-17 to win gold at Rio 2016. Just as memories of that humid night at Deodoro Stadium stick in the mind, anticipation now turns to Tokyo Stadium for six more days of exciting, fast-paced Olympics rugby.
New Zealand’s Portia Woodman set the tournament ablaze in 2016, scoring 10 tries in total, including one in the women’s final, while Australia’s Charlotte Caslick, Emma Tonegato and Kayla McAlister all notched up seven tries apiece.
As squad selections begin to take shape for Tokyo 2020, there are sure to be several new faces to set the tournament alight again this year and given a chance to go for gold in Japan. Here’s a breakdown of the Tokyo 2020 women’s rugby sevens squad announcements as they happen.
Ellia Green, one of the stars of Australia's gold medal success in Rio, will not be going to Tokyo.
Green – the most prolific try-scorer in Australian women’s sevens history – has been omitted from the squad in what Australia coach John Manenti admitted was the “hardest call” he’s ever made.
Even without Green, the women's team boasts 205 World Series tournament appearances between them, led by Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry. Parry, Williams, Emma Tonegato, Evania Pelite and Charlotte Caslick will return for their second Games.
Squad: Shannon Parry (co-capt.), Sharni Williams (co-capt.), Faith Nathan, Dominique Du Toit, Emma Tonegato, Evania Pelite, Charlotte Caslick, Madison Ashby, Tia Hinds, Sariah Paki, Demi Hayes, Maddison Levi
Four players with previous Olympic experience have been included in coach Will Broderick’s Brazil women’s squad for Tokyo.
Haline Scatrut, Isadora Cerullo, Luiza Gonzalez and captain Raquel Kochhann helped the Yaras to finish ninth in their first Olympic participation in Rio and return for a second Games.
The Yaras, who have dominated South American women’s sevens over the last two decades, will be competing against Canada, France and Fiji in Pool B at the Olympics.
Squad: Nicolau, Luiza Gonzalez da Costa, Rafaela Zanellato, Leila Cassia dos Santos, Thalia da Silva Costa, Isadora Cerullo, Aline Ribeiro Furtado, Mariana Fiovaranti, Haline Leme Scatrut, Raquel Kochhann (captain), Bianca dos Santos Silva and Thalita da Silva Costa. The two reserve athletes selected are Eshyllen Coimbra and Gabriela Lima
The bronze medallists from Rio include six survivors from that Games as they look to climb the podium.
Leading the way will be captain Ghislaine Landry. No female player has scored more World Series points than Canada’s Ghislaine Landry. The playmaker has amassed 1,356 points since making her debut against Russia in Dubai almost nine years ago.
Prolific try-scorer Bianca Farella and Britt Benn, Kayla Moleschi, Karen Paquin, and Charity Williams are the other returning players.
Squad: Elissa Alarie, Olivia Apps, Britt Benn, Pamphinette Buisa, Bianca Farella, Julia Greenshields, Ghislaine Landry, Kaili Lukan, Kayla Moleschi, Breanne Nicholas, Karen Paquin, Keyara Wardley, Charity Williams
New head coach Euan Mackintosh has included three of the players – Yan Meiling, Yang Feifei and Liu Xiaoqian – who helped China win the bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing in 2014.
Meiling captained the side at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 but, on this occasion, it is Yan Min who gets the armband. Min, 26, made her World Series debut for China in Atlanta in 2014. Yu Xiaoming and Yu Liping pre-date her in that regard, having first appeared on the World Series in Dubai a couple of years before.
Chen Keyi, meanwhile, is a veteran of two Rugby World Cup Sevens campaigns and has proven to be a top performer for the team over a number of years.
Squad: Tang Minglin, Ruan Hongting, Wu Juan, Wang Wanyu, Liu Xiaoqian, Yan Meiling, Xu Xiaoyan, Yu Xiaoming, Yu Liping, Yang Min (captain), Chen Keyi, Yang Feifei, Gu Yaoyao
Injury has robbed Fiji of two key players in Vani Buleki and Luisa Tisolo, but coach Saiasi Fuli's squad still has plenty of World Series experience, and in the case of captain Rusila Nagasau and Rejieli Daveua, Olympic experience. Nagasau and Daveua both appeared at Rio 2016 where the side finished eighth overall.
Newcomers to the squad include Sesenieli Donu, Reapi Uluinasau and Laisana Likuceva.
Squad: Rusila Nagasau (captain), Rejieli Daveua, Sesenieli Donu, Vasiti Solikoviti, Reapi Uluinasau, Tokasa Seniyasi, Viniana Riwai, Ana Naimasi, Aloesi Nakoci, Laisana Likuceva, Roela Radiniyavuna, Lavena Cavuru. Reserves: Lavenia Tinai, Ana Maria Roqica, Rejieli Uluinayau
Fanny Horta, France's influential captain at Rio 2016, is one of four players to return for a second Olympics. She is joined by Camille Grassineau, who scored the first-ever Olympics try in rugby sevens, Lina Guerin and Shannon Izar.
Séraphine Okemba and Chloé Jacquet are rewarded for their outstanding performances in the Olympic Repechage in Monaco with a place in the squad. Okemba top-scored at the final qualification tournament with 10 tries.
Meanwhile, Anne-Cécile Ciofani will follow in the footsteps of her parents, who are both former Olympians.
Squad: Coralie Bertrand, Anne-Cécile Ciofani, Caroline Drouin, Camille Grassineau, Lina Guerin, Fanny Horta, Shannon Izar, Chloé Jacquet, Carla Neisen, Séraphine Okemba, Chloé Pelle, Jade Ulutule, Joanna Grisez, Nassira Konde, Yolaine Yengo
Having toured with Team GB as one of two non-playing reserves at Rio 2016, England’s Megan Jones travels to Tokyo as co-captain alongside Abbie Brown, who also featured at the Games five years ago. England’s Natasha Hunt and Wales’ Jasmine Joyce have also been recalled to Team GB’s Olympics squad for a second time.
Meanwhile, Deborah Fleming, England’s highest points scorer during the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2018, and Rugby World Cup 2014 winner Alex Matthews will bring valuable experience to the Team GB ranks, which missed out on a bronze medal with defeat to Canada at Rio 2016.
Among the others making their Olympics debuts, England’s Celia Quansah will bring some Games experience, having also represented her country in the heptathlon and won long jump gold at the 2011 UK School Games before making the switch to rugby union. She joined the England Sevens programme from Loughborough Lightning in 2018.
Squad: Celia Quansah, Deborah Fleming, Alex Matthews, Abbie Brown (co-captain), Abi Burton, Holly Aitchison, Natasha Hunt, Megan Jones (co-captain), Helena Rowland, Hannah Smith, Emma Uren, Jasmine Joyce, Lisa Thomson (13th player)
Co-captains Mayu Shimizu and Bativakalolo Raichelmiyo will lead Japan at this year’s home Games as the Sakura Sevens look to make a bigger impact than they did during their Olympics debut at Rio 2016.
As the women’s game continues to make ground in Japan, they will be hoping to show steady improvements, having finished bottom of their group following defeats to Canada, Great Britain and Brazil five years ago, before going on to lose to the hosts Brazil again in the ninth-place final.
Ayaka Suzuki and Mio Yamanaka, who formed part of Japan’s playing squad in Rio de Janeiro, are also selected among four reserves for this year’s Olympics.
Squad: Mei Ohtani, Marin Kajiki, Mifuyu Koide, Mayu Shimizu (co-captain), Miyu Shirako, Honoka Tsutsumi, Hana Nagata, Bativakalolo Raichelmiyo (co-captain), Wakaba Hara, Yume Hirano, Haruka Hirotsu, Rinka Matsuda
Captain Philadelphia Olando is one of three survivors from the squad that played at the Rio Olympics in 2016, the others being Sheila Chajira and Janet Okello as the Lionesses seek to navigate their way out of Pool A, where they will face New Zealand, Russia and Great Britain.
Stella Wafula, Christabel Lindo, Diana Awino and Vivian Akumu have been talked up in the past by Olando and now have the chance to make an impression on sport's biggest stage. In Rio, only a victory in the 11th-place play-off against Colombia prevented the Lionesses from finishing last in the competition.
Squad: Philadelphia Olando (Capt.),Sheila Chajira, Stellah Wafula, Christabel Lindo, Leah Wambui, Judith Auma, Vivian Akumu, Sarah Oluche, Grace Adhiambo, Cynthia Atieno, Janet Okello, Sinaida Aura, Diana Awino
The Black Ferns Sevens team is captained by Sarah Hirini and features seven players who claimed a silver medal at the last Olympics in Kelly Brazier, Gayle Broughton, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Ruby Tui, Portia Woodman and Michaela Blyde.
Tui, Woodman and Blyde, who was a travelling reserve in 2016, are all recipients of the World Rugby Women's Sevens Players of the Year award.
Meanwhile, Bay of Plenty's Risaleaana Pouri-Lane could complete a unique double by winning both the Youth Olympic Games and Olympic Games gold medals. Pouri-Lane was captain at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games in 2018.
“The internal competition we have has really driven this group. We’ve got a spine that operates really well who we have massive faith in, but then we’ve got these great young players and players, I describe as hidden warriors, who have been doing a lot of work that you don’t really hear much about," said co-coach Allan Bunting.
Since claiming the silver medal in Rio, the Black Ferns Sevens have been incredibly dominant, winning 16 out of 22 World Series tournaments, the Rugby World Cup Sevens and Commonwealth Games gold.
Squad: Portia Woodman, Sarah Hirini (capt.), Ruby Tui, Tyla Nathan Wong, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Stacey Fluhler, Michaela Blyde, Alena Saili, Risaleaana Pouri-Lane, Kelly Brazier, Gayle Broughton, Shiray Kaka
Russian Olympic Committee (ROC)
Having captained Russia at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018, Alena Tiron gets the chance to lead from the front again at a major tournament.
Tiron, the DHL Impact Player for the 2019 World Series, heads up an experienced squad that includes former captain Nadezhda Sozonova and prolific try-scorer Elena Zdrokova.
At 30 years of age, Baizat Khamidova is the oldest member of the squad. The Enisei-STM player is Russia’s top point and try-scorer in World Series history and became the first Russian to play in 30 tournaments on the circuit in Glendale last year.
By contrast, Mariya Pogrebnyak has yet to make her World Series debut.
Squad: Daria Noritsina, Mariya Pogrebnyak, Daria Shestakova, Alena Tiron , Baizat Khamidova, Iana Danilova, Kristina Seredina, Marina Kukina, Daria Lushina, Elena Zdrokova, Nadezhda Sozonova, Anna Baranchuk
Lauren Doyle and Alev Kelter have been called up for their second Olympic Games. Kelter crossed five times in Rio 2016, including in Team USA’s fifth-place play-off versus France, which saw the Americans win 19-5.
Abby Gustaitis and Kristen Thomas will serve as co-captains for the Eagles at Tokyo 2020, while 10 of the 12-player squad will make their Olympics debut. Nana Fa’avesi, who was part of the Eagles’ 2016 outfit, will join the squad as one of two travelling reserves.
The squad also features Ariana Ramsey, who has yet to play in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, but earned her place after putting in a strong performance at the Pan American Games Lima 2019, where the US won silver.
Squad: Kayla Canett-Oca, Lauren Doyle, Cheta Emba, Abby Gustaitis (co-captain), Nicole Heavirland, Alev Kelter, Kristi Kirshe, Ilona Maher, Jordan Matyas, Ariana Ramsey, Naya Tapper, Kristen Thomas (co-captain), Nia Toliver (13th player), Kasey McCravey (travelling reserve), Nana Fa’avesi (travelling reserve)