Ireland and England are in pole position to claim the two remaining European places at Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 heading into the second and final leg of the region’s qualification process in Kazan, Russia, this weekend.
Russia, winners of the first leg in Malemort last month, and runners-up France are the top two sides in the Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Grand Prix Series, but both teams have already booked their ticket to San Francisco via their position on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2016-17.
That leaves beaten semi-finalists Ireland and England as the teams currently sitting in those qualification spots.
Fifth-placed Spain post no threat to Ireland and England either, having gained automatic quaification for RWC Sevens 2018 by virtue of reaching the semi-finals at the 2013 edition in Moscow. This leaves Wales and Italy as the main rivals in the Rugby Europe standings.
Of the 13 players named in the Ireland squad, 10 were involved in the opening round in Malemort. Captain Lucy Mulhall is one of the new faces after she was rested for the final round of the world series in Clermont-Ferrand.
With his charges looking forward to playing England, Sweden and Poland in Pool C on Saturday, Ireland coach Anthony Eddy said: "The squad had a good two weeks in France in June, finishing third in Malemort at the Grand Prix and then we had a top-eight finish at the Clermont Sevens, where we had three new caps in Claire (Boles), Anna (McGann) and Niamh (Byrne).
"It's been a progressive season for the women's sevens programme, so we're aiming to end it on a positive note in Kazan where we'll be looking to gain qualification for next season's Sevens Rugby World Cup in San Francisco."
England, who were beaten twice by Ireland in Malemort, make just one change to their squad. England and Team GB player Claire Allan returns to sevens from 15s, joining fellow Olympians Jo Watmore, Alice Richardson and Heather Fisher.
“We have full confidence in the side selected which combines the experience of players who have played in major tournaments such as the Olympics, with younger players who have made their mark this season and bring a lot of energy to the side," said England sevens coach James Bailey.
“Going into Kazan it’s now about translating what we have been working on over the past season into consistent performances across the weekend that deliver results.”
Wales are paired with table-topping Russia, Italy and the Netherlands in Pool A, while Belgium and Portugal will need to overcome France and Spain in Pool C if they are to keep alive their slim hopes of making it to RWC Sevens.
The action from Kazan will be streamed live here by Rugby Europe.