The 12 captains of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series convened at the Four Mile Historic Park in Glendale, Colorado ahead of the HSBC USA Women's Sevens, taking place at Infinity Park on 5-6 October.
The teams are preparing for their first tournament of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 and it marks the start of the Olympic season for rugby sevens as the sport prepares to make its second appearance on the Olympic Games programme in Tokyo next summer.
The HSBC USA Women’s Sevens tournament was first introduced in 2018 and is now one of eight tournaments on the women’s series – a record number for the women’s competition – with six of those combined with men’s events.
The men's and women's USA teams both finished second on the 2019 series and rugby is growing in popularity at a rapid rate in the country. Independent Nielsen research has found USA to have the highest proportion of rugby fans worldwide with more than 33 million people who are either ‘interested or very interested’ in the sport, demonstrating the huge potential for the growth of rugby in the USA.
Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018, which was hosted in San Francisco, saw more than 100,000 fans attend the three-day event at AT&T Park, setting a new attendance record for a rugby event held in the USA.
2019 was a hugely competitive season on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series with New Zealand taking the title and the top four teams also earning automatic qualification to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
New Zealand, USA, Australia and Canada will be joined in Tokyo by Japan, Brazil and Great Britain after the latter two secured spots through the regional qualification process in June and July.
With the increased schedule and with the Olympic Games on the horizon too, the defending champions’ captain Sarah Hirini cannot wait to get started.
"This weekend is going to be massive for every country. It’s about starting the season off on a high, making sure that your pre-season went really well and I’m just hugely excited to be getting to play alongside the girls again," she said.
"We know that our success last year was last year and that we can’t fall back on what we’ve previously done.
"We know that teams are coming out here and wanting to win here in Colorado and we want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to try and beat them."
New Zealand will face England, Russia and invitational team Japan in Pool A.
Pool B sees the hosts USA paired with France, Ireland and the new core team for 2020, Brazil.
Appointed as co-captain alongside Lauren Doyle for the 2020 season, Abby Gustaitis said: “We’re hoping for a medal performance and to build on the foundation that we set last year and just keep improving tournament by tournament."
Many of the teams have incorporated altitude training into their preparation for Glendale, with Gustaitis adding: “We spent a few days up in Breckenridge up in the mountains which is at about 9,600 feet elevation and we ran a couple of clinics for youth rugby and then got to Glendale Monday afternoon where we hit the ground running with our training – we’re excited for the tournament.”
Brazil captain Raquel Kochhann said: "We are so excited to show to the whole world what we have been doing in training and our hard work in Brazil to show our best on the world series."
Elsewhere, the bronze medallists in Glendale last year, Canada will tackle Australia, Spain and Fiji in Pool C.
The action gets underway at Infinity Park at 09:53 local time (GMT-7) on Saturday with Australia against Spain in the opening pool game.