With the 12 women's teams counting down the hours until they make their debut at the HSBC Cape Town Sevens on Friday, the squads for the third round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 have been announced.
South Africa is the 11th country to host a round of the women's series since it began in late 2012 and Cape Town the 16th location after Dubai, Houston, Guangzhou, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Sao Paulo, Langford, London, Clermont-Ferrand, Sydney, Las Vegas, Kitakyushu, Paris, Glendale and Biarritz.
With Cape Town coming hot on the heels of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens last weekend, it is the first time since the 2015-16 season that the women's teams have had back-to-back events on the series.
The 40th event in women's series history will see Canada's Bianca Farella (pictured) and Kayla Moleschi draw level with New Zealand's regular captain Sarah Hirini – who on Thursday became the first female recipient of the Tom French Memorial Maori Player of the Year award in its 70-year history – as the most-capped players with Cape Town being their 36th event.
It will also be an occasion that South Africa's women will never forget as the Imbokodo play on home soil for the first time. The invitational team for this weekend's event, it will be South Africa's first appearance on the series since Dubai in late 2017 and captain Zintle Mpupha simply cannot wait.
“This is new to us being at home and we are all terribly excited and nervous,” Mpupha said. “We know two things – this group will play with massive heart and we will not give up.
“We realise the pace will be faster, the hits will be harder and the split-seconds will even be less. But knowing that we will be playing in our stadium, in front of our crowd, with our emblem and flag on the jersey, will give us massive energy and encouragement.
“We really hope to have a huge crowd when we play as we want to show our hearts, our guts and our talent to those who came to support us.”
Gold medallists join Black Ferns Sevens squad
The Imbokodo, who will face Dubai champions New Zealand in their opening match at Cape Town Stadium, have also received some advice from South Africa's Rugby World Cup 2019 winning captain Siya Kolisi, who Mpupha said told them “not to worry about what other people might think or say, but to keep believing in what we want to achieve.”
South Africa will have six series debutants in their squad as they prepare to face the Black Ferns Sevens, Russia and Fiji in Pool A, with Zenay Jordaan and Mathrin Simmers the only players with event appearances in double figures.
New Zealand will again be led by Tyla Nathan-Wong, who was today named Black Ferns Sevens Player of the Year to go with the team's accolade of New Zealand Team of the Year. The Black Ferns Sevens have made two changes from their victorious squad in Dubai with Youth Olympic Games gold medallists Risi Pouri-Lane and Mahina Paul coming into the 12, the latter to make her series debut.
Fiji also have a debutant in their squad for the second weekend running, with Ani Mei Likuvagali given her chance to impress as they target a second Cup quarter-final in a row, while Russia welcome back Aline Arterchuk and Snezhanna Kulkova for their first appearances of the 2020 series.
Milestones for France and Australia
Canada, as runners-up in Dubai for the second year running, are the top seeds in Pool B and will face France, Spain and Brazil. Canada and France are the only two teams to named unchanged squads from Dubai with the latter's Chloé Pelle to become her country's third player to reach 30 series events.
Spain bring Lucia Diaz into the squad after she made her series debut as an injury replacement in Dubai, while Rafaela Zanellato also steps in to the squad after being 13th player, swapping places with Aline Bednarski in a Brazil side that ended a 12-match losing run on the series with victory over Japan in the 11th place play-off last weekend.
Dubai bronze medallists USA will face Olympic champions Australia, England and Ireland in Pool C. The Women's Sevens Eagles have made only one change with Kasey McCravey coming in to replace Kayla Canett, who drops down to 13th player.
By contrast Australia have three changes to their squad with Evania Pelite ruled out through injury. Yasmin Meakes, Demi Hayes and debutant Jakiya Whitfield come in for a tournament that will see captain Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry move ahead of Charlotte Caslick to become their country's most-capped players.
England, who beat Ireland in sudden-death extra-time to finish ninth in Dubai, bring in Beth Wilcock, while Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird also makes the 12 after being used as an injury replacement last weekend. Kate Farrell McCabe will make her series debut if, like Nic A Bhaird, is called upon in Cape Town.
The action gets underway at 14:00 local time (GMT) on Friday with the first round of pool matches, starting with Australia's encounter with England. Tickets are still available for Friday's play, online at www.computicket.com, at their various outlets nationwide, or at participating Shoprite/Checkers stores across South Africa.