The race to join the 12 qualified teams and host nation USA at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 continues this weekend as Russia stages the first of four tournaments on the Rugby Europe Grand Prix Series.
The top two European teams – other than England, Wales, Scotland and France who have already secured their place either via their placing at RWC Sevens 2013 in Moscow or via the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – will get a ticket to San Francisco, the venue for next year’s showpiece event.
With such a big prize at stake, and a quality line-up in place, competition is expected to be intense over the next six weeks as the series moves from Moscow to Lodz in Poland and then on to Clermont-Ferrand in France before reaching its final destination of Exeter in England.
England coach Simon Amor certainly envisages a tough challenge ahead as he prepares to lead an experimental team into battle.
“The standard of the European competition is exceptionally high and you only have to see that with both finalists for the world series qualifiers – Germany and Spain – being European, just how tough the competition is," he said.
"The Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series is going to be a really big challenge for this young team but will be an excellent development opportunity for them as players as they push on for recognition on next year’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series."
Having regained their place as a core team on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for 2017-18 season after winning the qualifier in Hong Kong in April, Spain will fancy their chances of making it all the way to RWC Sevens 2018.
Los Leones Sevens are in Pool B alongside Russia, who retained their place on the world series following a 14th-place finish in 2016-17, Italy and a Poland side that has never graced the RWC Sevens stage before.
IRELAND MAKE DEBUT
This will be Ireland’s Grand Prix Series debut, following on from last year's European Trophy title win, as they look to ensure all of the Home Nations are present in California next year.
They have been drawn in Pool A for the opening round in Moscow, which will be live-streamed on www.rugbyeurope.tv. Georgia, Germany and Wales provide the opposition on the first day at Oktyabr Stadium.
"We're in a tough pool for the opening round, with Wales performing well on the world sevens series this season, while Germany have a strong sevens programme in place and Georgia are always a strong and physical side, so it will be important that the players are focused throughout each game as we look to get things off to a good start,” said the IRFU's Director of Rugby Sevens Anthony Eddy.
Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 quarter-finalists England and France are joined in Pool C by Portugal and Belgium. Like Poland, Belgium have never appeared at a RWC Sevens tournament before.