HSBC SVNS IS GOING NEXT LEVEL
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After two years away, Alev Kelter makes her return to the women's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series with the USA in Vancouver this weekend.
Kelter has spent the intervening period concentrating on her 15s career, in the English Premier 15s in England, and then with the Women's Eagles at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Now she is back in the shortened format of the game, the USA number 15 has a chance to bring up 100 tries on the Series in Vancouver this weekend. She is currently four short of the milestone along with New Zealand's Kelly Brazier.
Emilie Bydwell's squad is also boosted by the return of fellow Tokyo Olympian, Ariana Ramsey, but the influential Jaz Gray is still sidelined through injury.
After medalling in each of the first four tournaments, the USA will be aiming to solidify their place in the top four in the Series standings and earn qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
“We are excited to welcome back Alev Kelter, who has been working very diligently in our residency programme off the back of her 15s World Cup campaign,” said Bydwell, clearly delighted to have such a skilful and experienced player back in the squad.
“She adds great energy as a power runner but is also an excellent pass, kick and turnover threat.
“Ari Ramsey will get her first taste of the World Series following an appearance at the 2021 Olympic Games. She adds elite speed to our already incredibly dynamic team that the opposition will need to respect.”
Nathan-Wong set for half-century
With back-to-back wins this year, the Black Ferns Sevens are the team to beat.
Having taken the Cup titles in Hamilton and Sydney, completing a hat-trick of wins would be an extra special way for Tyla Nathan-Wong to bring up her half-century in terms of international tournament appearances, with 40 of them coming on the Series.
In Vancouver, Nathan-Wong is set to become the second player after captain Sarah Hirini to reach the milestone for the Black Ferns.
Head coach Cory Sweeney hailed Nathan-Wong as “a standout performer” as New Zealand head into the second half of the Series with a 12-point lead over Australia at the top of the standings.
“Tyla has been a standout performer and member of this team for over 10 years now. She has consistently been named among the best players in the world and has played a significant role in the Black Ferns’ success,” he said.
“She remains calm under pressure, and has a world-class skill set, setting her apart from the rest. We are excited to be able to celebrate this milestone with her in Vancouver.”
Nathan-Wong said she was privileged to reach 50 tournaments in the black jersey.
"50 tournaments, that's 12 years in the game. I started as a young and tiny 17-year-old. I've seen the game develop and grow, to what it is now.
“I'm just beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to be doing what I love and to pull the black jersey on for this long. I am 50 not out and still have much more to give,” Nathan-Wong said.
Opportunity knocks for Nasser
Current Series champions Australia also have the HSBC Canada Sevens title to defend having won in Langford last year by playing some outstanding attacking rugby.
Tim Walsh’s side, who sit second in the standings, set a new record for most tries in a single Women’s Series event in Canada last season, scoring 34.
Maddison Levi remains the most potent finisher on the circuit with her tally of 32 tries one more than New Zealand’s Michaela Blyde, and she takes her place in a squad showing one change from the one that achieved a fifth-place finish last time out in Sydney.
Bella Nasser, who debuted in Cape Town at the end of last year, gets another opportunity and uncapped Kaitlin Shave is included in the 13-strong party as a result of co-captains Demi Hayes (back) and Sharni Williams (leave) remaining at home.
After three consecutive appearances in the semi-finals, Ireland will be aiming to go one better and reach the final in Vancouver.
Their challenge will once again be spearheaded by last season’s top try-scorer on the Series, Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe, who managed a record 12 tries at last year’s event.
Meanwhile, Rhona Lloyd will make her Great Britain bow this weekend.
Lloyd, 26, has experienced the Series before but with Scotland, in Biarritz in 2019 and last year in Toulouse.
She also played at the 2022 Commonwealth Games but failed to make the GB squad for the Tokyo Olympics.
Debutants ready to leave their mark
In Bianca Farella, Canada have the most experienced Series player at BC Place.
The 30-year-old has featured in 44 events prior to this weekend – one more than Australia’s Charlotte Caslick and two more than France’s Chloe Pelle – and the younger players in the squad will no doubt look to her for guidance.
Farella is accompanied in the host nation’s squad by two Series rookies, Piper Logan and Taejah Thompson, the former having turned heads on her international debut back in July last year at the Commonwealth Games.
Spain and Fiji also field debutants in Meredani Qoro and Tecla Masoko Bueriberi. At the same time, invitational side Colombia’s squad is made up entirely of Series newcomers except for captain Maria Camila Lopera Valle.