With the return of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 arriving at a rate of knots, we've picked seven players to light up the HSBC USA Women’s Sevens in Glendale.
The HSBC USA Women’s Sevens marks the start of eight tournaments on the series – a record number for the women’s competition – and announces the beginning of the Olympic season for rugby sevens.
AMEE-LEIGH MURPHY CROWE (IRELAND)
Where else to start but with Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, the top try-scorer on the world series last year. The flyer finished with no less than 35 tries to her name and was the first northern hemisphere player to win the Gilbert Top Try Scorer award. Her sublime work across the season also saw her secure a place in the HSBC Dream Team. Murphy Crowe's searing pace and step makes her a significant handful for any outfit and she’s part of an Irish side that are working off an eighth-place finish in the standings in 2019 - their highest-ever finish on the World Series circuit.
BIANCA SILVA (BRAZIL)
As Brazil return to the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series as a core team for 2020, keep an eye fixed on Bianca Silva. The 20-year-old, one of the 'Unstoppables' from World Rugby's Women in Rugby 'Try and Stop Us' campaign, discovered the sport aged 11 after attending a Rugby Para Todos session in Sao Paulo's biggest favela. She made her debut on the world series in 2015 and her performance at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 saw her score five tries in four matches which highlights her brilliance. The Brazilian Player of the Year in 2018 steps, dummies and accelerates to top speed superbly. While eye for a gap and ability to take an opportunity is second-to-none on the world series.
ABBY GUSTAITIS (USA)
Next, let's look at the home side's co-captain as Abby Gustaitis. The 28-year-old and the USA squad finished the 2019 series on the perfect note, claiming their first-ever Cup title in Biarritz, and the motivation to replicate that on home soil is high. The new co-captain, who started playing rugby during her freshman year at the University of Maryland, describes herself as a 'power runner'. She uses her physicality to take full advantage of mismatches whenever they arise and is a key part of her side's proficiency at handling the kick-off. She's a student of all forms of the game and will step up and lead by example at Infinity Park.
SARAH HIRINI (NEW ZEALAND)
Now let’s move form one captain to another and highlight the inspirational captain of the Black Ferns Sevens for the last five years. Last season, Sarah Hirini led her team to a record-equalling 37 wins in a row on the series – 38 matches unbeaten – and the 26-year-old became the first female to play in 200 matches on the global circuit. She has a tireless work ethic, is a terrier in defence and has the type of vision that every side wants to have within their ranks.
ALENA MIKHALTSOVA (RUSSIA)
The DHL Impact Player of 2019, Alena Mikhaltsova, clocked up some impressive statistics en route to winning the award. Russia's captain made 74 tackles, 32 breaks, 26 offloads and 127 carries throughout the season. She’s also part of an exclusive world series club that contains players who have scored five in a single match. Mikhaltsova's five-try feat, which shows her threat on the front foot, came in Kitakyushu in 2018. On the back foot, she's exceptionally determined in defence and when she's puling the strings, Russia are a formidable threat.
RUBY TUI (NEW ZEALAND)
This powerful prop, who is described by her team-mates as ‘a very inspiring leader’, is instrumental to New Zealand's success. With seemingly endless energy levels, the nominee for the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year 2019, is never one to shirk a challenge and is always there when her side need her the most. The 27-year-old was another member of the HSBC Dream Team for the 2019 series when she started every match and scored 15 tries in their title-winning season. Off the pitch, Tui's team-mates will also be the first to tell you about how important she is as part of their sisterhood ... in short Tui does it all.
JODIE OUNSLEY (ENGLAND)
Jodie Ounsley is a new addition to England's programme and most recently was part of the squad who finished as runners-up at Rugby Europe Women’s U18 Sevens Championship in Jarocin. The teenager, who has a vast sporting CV under her belt including being the British jiu jitsu champion, a junior Team GB sprinter and being named Young Deaf Sports Personality, is about to make her HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series debut in Glendale. She has undeniable pace and makes scoring tries a habit in every match that she plays. With the Olympics being her ultimate dream, starting strongly in Glendale will be at the top of this talented teenager’s list.