The final squads have been announced for the HSBC USA Women’s Sevens in Glendale, Colorado on 5-6 October which marks the start of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020.
As well as competing for the coveted 2020 series title, this season will culminate with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games which will be the second time rugby sevens is played at an Olympics following its successful introduction at Rio 2016.
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.
This season welcomes Brazil as one of the 11 core teams that will participate on the circuit after they won the world series qualifier event in Hong Kong this year.
After being relegated from the world series in 2019, Japan are the invitational side for the series opener in Glendale.
Hosts USA name Abby Gustaitis as co-captain for this season beside Lauren Doyle who will lead an experienced squad on home turf this weekend.
They are named alongside Alev Kelter, a consistent member of the squad since 2014, who will become the first USA player to reach 30 series tournaments in Glendale.
Head coach Chris Brown has selected one series debutant in 19 year-old Eti Haungatu who made her test debut in the Women’s Rugby Super Series in San Diego this summer.
TWO PLAYER OF THE YEAR NOMINEES NAMED FOR GLENDALE
Defending Glendale and 2019 series champions, New Zealand, have named a squad that boasts two World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year 2019 nominees, Ruby Tui and captain Sarah Hirini.
They are joined by Stacey Waaka, one of the Unstoppables from World Rugby’s Women in Rugby ‘Try and Stop Us’ campaign, who makes her return to the squad following an injury sustained at the HSBC Sydney Sevens tournament 2019.
A year on from winning sevens gold at the Youth Olympic Games, Montessa Tairakena is named in co-coach Cory Sweeney's squad where she will make her first appearance on the world series this weekend.
On selection, Hirini said: "We’ve got new players coming in and have a girl who is going to debut this weekend which is really exciting.
"She’s 19, she’s extremely quick and she’s just an extremely talented athlete. We have National Sevens, she carved up at that, and she has been in our programme and has been working really, really hard. I’m excited for her, she’s a little girl but she’s got a lot of fight in her."
Hirini is embracing the challenge that lies ahead in Glendale, adding: “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.”
Looking further ahead, she added: “I’m just so happy that we get to go to some amazing tournaments that have been added in. Obviously two really massive ones that the men get to go to, and I know that all of the girls are looking forward to doing that.”
AUSTRALIA LOOKING TO REPLICATE OLYMPIC SUCCESS
Reigning Olympic champions, Australia also name an experienced squad for Glendale which includes Australia’s most capped player, Charlotte Caslick, who reached her 30th event in Langford, Canada last season.
Alicia Lucas (nee Quirk) will become the fourth Australian women to play in 30 series tournaments in Glendale this weekend after Caslick, Shannon Parry and captain Sharni Williams.
Williams is relishing the Olympic effect as the squad builds towards Tokyo 2020, commenting: “It’s amazing what we have gotten from that Olympic gold, there’s been so much hype and so much excitement about it which still happens today even though it was almost four years ago.
“This is the tournament where you see all the work that goes on behind the scenes and whether the teams have prepared well enough or not.
“It’s really exciting for us to take to the field this weekend and really build into the Olympics and showcase what we are about.”
The new core team, Brazil, recently qualified for Tokyo 2020 after winning the Sudamerica Rugby title for a 15th time this summer.
Their captain, Raquel Kochhann led her team to victory in the series qualifier in Hong Kong this year and is the most experienced member of the squad with 20 series events.
She will be joined in Glendale by Bianca Silva, another of World Rugby’s Unstoppables and two debutants; 18 year-old Andressa Alves and 22 year-old Dayana Dakar.
England is another side to name a debutant in their squad, with 18 year-old Jodie Ounsley stepping onto the world series stage for the first time this weekend.
Their head coach will also be making his world series debut in post this weekend with former England sevens player, Charlie Hayter, succeeding James Bailey at the end of last season.
Ounsley and her teammates will be led out by Abbie Brown who enters her fourth season as England captain. Brown recently captained an England side who qualified Team GB for Tokyo 2020 through the Rugby Europe Grand Prix Sevens tournament in Kazan, Russia.
Brown says her team has prepared well for the season opener: “Our pre-season has gone well, we’ve been working hard and putting in the hard graft, so hopefully this tournament will get the ball rolling, give us the chance to explore what we’re going to do and see what we’ve got to offer.”
On Olympic qualification, Brown added: “We worked so hard for that qualification spot. It’s such a relief and super exciting and we’ve obviously got that to look forward to.”
Elsewhere, France are without their usual captain Fanny Horta with Caroline Drouin stepping in to lead the side for the first time.
Russia will be celebrating a milestone in Glendale with Baizat Khamidova, who became the first Russian to score 100 series tries in Biarritz 2019, also becoming the first Russian to play in 30 series tournaments this weekend.
The action gets underway at Infinity Park at 09:53 local time (GMT-6) on Saturday with Australia against Spain in the opening pool game.