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Dubai is the first of six events held alongside the men’s competition in the biggest season in women’s sevens history with a record eight tournaments and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
New Zealand are the defending champions in Dubai, having beaten Canada 26-14 in last year’s final to claim a fourth title in the desert, and are bidding to become the first team to successfully defend the women's title in Dubai.
The Black Ferns Sevens welcome back playmaker Tyla Nathan-Wong, Alena Saili and Shiray Kaka to their squad. Nathan-Wong assumes the captaincy with Sarah Hirini ruled out of the Dubai and Cape Town rounds with injury, while for Kaka it is her first tournament since the 2018 series finale in Paris.
The squad also features Ruby Tui, who was named World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year 2019 in association with HSBC at the World Rugby Awards in Tokyo last month, ahead of her team-mates Nathan-Wong and Hirini, but injury has ruled out Michaela Blyde and Portia Woodman.
“The goal for everyone is the Olympics next year, but you've got to take it tournament by tournament and appreciate and enjoy those milestones along the way,” said Nathan-Wong. “For us that's what we're looking forward to. It is just the journey first and experiencing each tournament and eventually we'll get to Tokyo.”
The Black Ferns Sevens will face France – who welcome back some experienced faces in Fanny Horta and Shannon Izar to the squad that lost the bronze medal play-off to New Zealand in Glendale – as well as England and invitational side Japan in Pool C.
Series leaders USA are bidding for a third successive Cup title, having won their first title in Biarritz at the end of last season and then become the second team to win on home soil in Glendale in October.
Coach Chris Brown has made only two changes to his settled squad with Kayla Canett and Kris Thomas coming in, the latter being available again after injury and named co-captain alongside Abby Gustaitis as they prepare to face neighbours Canada, Russia and Brazil in Pool A.
Canada welcome back two experienced players in Brittany Benn and Sara Kaljuvee as they bid to improve on a sixth place finish in Glendale, while two familiar faces return for Russia – seeking a fifth medal in Dubai – after lengthy periods away from sevens in Nadezhda Sozonova (nee Kudinova) and Marina Myasnikova (nee Petrova).
Sozonova, a former World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year nominee back in 2015 and former Russia captain, has not played on the series since the Dubai round in 2016, while Myasnikova last played in Langford in 2017 but they will add valuable experience to a settled Russian squad.
Canada captain Ghislaine Landry said: “We had a couple of tight finishes in Glendale that didn't go our way. The results were obviously pretty disappointing for us, but looking at the video we know what went wrong and we're ready to fix those things.”
Olympic champions Australia, runners-up in round one in Glendale, will face Spain, Fiji and Ireland in Pool B and will be looking to continue their trend of winning in Dubai in alternate years.
Australia have two of the five debutants across the squads in Georgia Hannaway and Faith Nathan, but suffered a blow just before departing for Dubai with Charlotte Caslick – the DHL Impact Player in Glendale – ruled out with a hamstring injury.
“We've got some fresh young faces to really hype up our team and to give them an opportunity to showcase what they are about and what they can offer for the Olympics to come, so I think that kind of keeps everything fresh,” admitted Captain Sharni Williams. “It's obviously not the consistency side with the team but consistency in what we want to do in terms of making the finals.
“Glendale was really great for us, to make a final. It took us so long last season to make a final. We were very happy with how we went. It’s about consistency and that’s what we’re here to do.”
Fiji finished 11th in Glendale and their squad in Dubai features two players who last weekend created history as part of the first Fijian women's team to qualify for a Rugby World Cup in 15s in Captain Rusila Nagasau and Lavenia Tinai, a try-scorer in the 41-13 win over Samoa that confirmed their place at RWC 2021 in New Zealand.
“For us to go to 15s and come back to sevens, they (their team-mates) were really happy for us to qualify the team,” said Tinai. “Getting their support that is the main thing for us, just to keep women’s rugby moving forward in Fiji. We came back from a high note, and ready to go, said Tinai.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/PACNEWS
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