We take a closer look at the 16 teams vying to be crowned world champions at the third RWC Sevens to feature a women's competition this weekend.
Coach: John Manenti
Captains: Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams
Twitter handle: @Aussie7s
RWC Sevens best result: Champions 2009
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 1
Australia wrote their name into RWC Sevens history when Shelly Matcham scored a dramatic sudden-death try to beat New Zealand 15-10 in the inaugural women’s final in Dubai in 2009. It would be another seven years before Australia tasted such heights again, winning a first HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series title and then the inaugural Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016 as their sevens programme began to reap rewards. With the experience of co-captains Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams, the vision of former World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Charlotte Caslick and the pace of Ellia Green and Emma Tonegato, Australia will be hoping to rediscover the dominance they enjoyed at the start of the 2018 series when they became the first team to go through a series event without conceding a try in Sydney. Australia arrive in San Francisco on a high after holding off an in-form New Zealand to win a second series crown.
Coach: Reuben Samuel
Captain: Raquel Kochhann
Nickname: Las Yarras
Twitter handle: @BrasilRugby
RWC Sevens best result: Bowl runners-up 2009
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 14
Brazil have long been the dominant force in women’s rugby in South America, Las Yarras winning their 13th Sudamérica Rugby Sevens title last November to secure their place at RWC Sevens 2018. A core of players have played their part in that dominance, among them captain Raquel Kochhann and Beatriz Futuro Muhlbauer, but they are now being joined by the next generation, including teenager Rafaela Zanellato, Brazil’s Young Player of the Year in 2017. The 18-year-old scored three tries in the world series qualifier in Hong Kong in April and then made her series debut a month later in Langford where Brazil appeared as an invitational team. Las Yarras succumbed to heavy defeats by New Zealand and Fiji but gave England and Japan a major scare before staging a stunning comeback to beat core team Russia.
Coach: John Tait
Captain: Ghislaine Landry
Twitter handle: @RugbyCanada
RWC Sevens best result: Runners-up 2013
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series final placing: 4
Canada, runners-up at RWC Sevens 2013, will be looking to go one step further closer to home in San Francisco this weekend. Ghislaine Landry was at the heart of their run to the final in Moscow, scoring a try in the 29-12 loss to New Zealand in the title decider, and remains a pivotal figure with Canada a much different proposition when their talisman and captain is missing. Canada have a settled squad with a strong backbone of experience and dynamic runners like Bianca Farella, Julia Greenshields and Charity Williams who can strike from anywhere. John Tait’s side had a mixed time in 2018, from winning bronze medals in Sydney and Paris to failing to reach the Cup quarter-finals for the first time in series history in Kitakyushu, to finish fourth in the series standings, their lowest ever ranking – a scenario which makes them even more dangerous on the RWC Sevens stage.
Coach: Chad Shepherd
Captain: Yan Meiling
Twitter handle: @CRFAChinaRugby
RWC Sevens best result: Bowl winners 2009
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 12
China will return to the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in 2019 as a core team after a dominant display at the qualifier in Hong Kong in April saw them win all six games, scoring 24 tries and conceding just eight. Chen Keyi scored a hat-trick in the 31-14 win over South Africa in the final and was a key figure in their run to the Cup quarter-finals in Kitakyushu where they appeared as the invitational team a fortnight after their Hong Kong success. China had never reached a quarter-final on the world series, but their handling skills and pace ensured they were a handful for every team they faced as they narrowly lost to Spain and Fiji but beat Ireland. With their entire squad under the age of 25, China are a team who can only improve with regular competition against the best sides in the world.
Coach: James Bailey
Captain: Abbie Brown
Twitter handle: @EnglandRugby
RWC Sevens best result: Plate winners 2009
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 8
England have never made it beyond the quarter-final stage in RWC Sevens history and have enjoyed mixed fortunes over the last couple of years on the world series, showing glimpses of form but also missing out on the top eight on several occasions to regularly find themselves battling for Challenge Trophy honours rather than titles. This was epitomised by their route to RWC Sevens when, having missed out through the series, they had to battle through the Rugby Europe qualification pathway to claim the second regional spot behind Ireland. However, with many key names having returned to sevens contracts following Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017, including the likes of Emily Scarratt and Natasha Hunt, and lining up alongside exciting youngsters like try-scoring machine Jess Breach and the vastly-experienced Heather Fisher then Commonwealth Games bronze medallists England are not a side to write off as title contenders.
Coach: Iliesa Tanivula
Captain: Ana Maria Roqica
Twitter handle: @FijiRugby
RWC Sevens best result: Bowl winners 2013
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 9
Fiji’s women, just like their men’s team, are a joy to watch when everything comes together and the simple tactic of offloading out of tackles and creating space for others results in some mesmerising, often long-range, tries. Fijiana struggled to find their form in the early rounds of the season, having enjoyed their best-ever series in 2016-17 to finish fourth and raise levels of expectation back home, but sixth place finishes in Kitakyushu and Paris suggest that coach Iliesa Tanivula is once again getting the best out of his players. Led by captain Ana Maria Roqica and with try-scoring threats like Luisa Basei Tisolo and Ana Maria Naimasi, a Fijian side playing with freedom and a smile on their faces will be a welcome sight for their vocal supporters.
Coach: David Courteix
Captain: Fanny Horta
Nickname: Les Bleues
Twitter handle: @FFRugby
RWC Sevens best result: Plate semi-finalists 2009
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 3
France have long had the potential to challenge for titles but had never managed to discover the magic formula until this year, when Les Bleues reached their first-ever series Cup final in Kitakyushu only to fall to New Zealand. The David Courteix-coached team showed that was no flash in the pan by reaching the semi-finals in Langford and Paris to claim the series bronze medal for the first time – a big improvement on seventh the previous year. With captain Fanny Horta leading by example alongside another stalwart in Marjorie Mayans, and Camille Grassineau (pictured) and Montserrat Amédée scoring tries for fun, Les Bleues would appear to be closing in on their first major honour in sevens. They also boast the Rookie of the Year in Coralie Bertrand and the French public will be hoping for more flowing rugby in San Francisco.
Coach: Anthony Eddy
Captain: Lucy Mulhall
Twitter handle: @IrishRugby
RWC Sevens best result: Plate semi-finalists 2013
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 10
Ireland have made steady improvement over the last three years as a result of their core team status on the world series, but often find themselves missing out on a quarter-final place by small margins to leave them battling for Challenge Trophy honours instead. They won the Trophy twice – in Dubai and Paris – and were runners-up in Kitakyushu where they impressively beat Canada. Led by Lucy Mulhall, Ireland have a lethal finisher in Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe who has pace to burn and the confidence to back herself in any situation. The likes of Stacey Flood and Hannah Tyrrell add plenty of experience, while 19-year-old Eve Higgins is one of an exciting crop of young players who have a bright future ahead of them.
Coach: Hitoshi Inada
Captain: Chiharu Nakamura
Nickname: Sakura Sevens
Twitter handle: @JRFURugby
RWC Sevens best result: Bowl quarter-finalists 2009 and 2013
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 11
Smaller in stature than many of their opponents, Japan look to push the tempo and keep the ball alive with inspirational captain Chiharu Nakamura at the heart of everything and a regular challenger for DHL Impact Player honours. Coach Hitoshi Inada has not been afraid to put his faith in youth, often fielding several teenagers in squads on the world series with the likes of Yume Hirano, Fumiko Otake and Emii Tanaka making a name for themselves. Japan won the Challenge Trophy in Langford – their best result of the 2018 series – but lost their core team status after only one year back on the circuit and will be looking to finish the season on a high with a strong showing in San Francisco. If the Sakura Sevens are to do that then Raichielmiyo Bativakalolo is likely to feature prominently, adding to the seven tries she scored in Paris that earned her a place in the tournament HSBC Dream Team.
Coach: Robin MacDowell
Captain: Dany Rosales
Nickname: Las Serpientes
Twitter handle: @Rugby_Mexico
RWC Sevens best result: Debut in 2018
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: Did not play
Women’s rugby has grown exponentially in a short space of time in Mexico and Las Serpientes’ qualification for a first RWC Sevens has helped accelerate that growth. Captain Daniela Rosales is one of the role models inspiring girls across the country to play rugby, not least as the scorer of the try that beat Trinidad and Tobago in the Rugby Americas North regional qualifier and secured their place in San Francisco. The team have a motto – ‘Dream. Believe. Succeed’ – and have certainly left no stone unturned in their preparations for RWC Sevens in their quest to make their mark on the world stage, holding six training camps, including trips to Canada and USA under the guidance of Canadian coach Robin MacDowell, or ‘Coach Loco’ as his players have nicknamed him since he took charge in early 2017.
Coach: Allan Bunting
Captain: Sarah Goss
Nickname: Black Ferns Sevens
Twitter handle: @BlackFerns
RWC Sevens best result: Champions 2013
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 2
New Zealand are the defending RWC Sevens champions having beaten Canada in Moscow in 2013 and they certainly know what winning is all about, having won four series titles in six years and the inaugural Commonwealth Games gold medal earlier this year. The Black Ferns Sevens will arrive in San Francisco as the in-form team and on a 23-match unbeaten run that has brought them Cup titles in Kitakyushu, Langford and Paris. That run wasn’t enough to deny Australia a second series crown, but with a perfect blend of physical power, sheer pace, x-factor and experience when it comes to finals and knock-out rugby, the most successful team in women’s sevens history will take some beating in San Francisco. The squad is littered with star names, from captain Sarah Goss and Niall Williams to the lethal finishing duo of Portia Woodman and Michaela Blyde, the World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year in 15s and sevens respectively in 2017.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Coach: John Larry
Captain: Cassandra Sampson
RWC Sevens best result: Debut in 2018
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 16
Papua New Guinea’s women created history by reaching the Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship semi-finals last November, enough to secure qualification for a first-ever Rugby World Cup Sevens. The Palais have since gained further experience by playing in the Sydney round of the series as the invitational team and in the Hong Kong qualifier, where their bid for a core team place was ended by eventual champions China in the quarter-finals. The lethal finisher that is Joanne Lagona is missing from the squad, but vice-captain Debbie Kaore is one of their most experienced players and one of 10 players who have played on the series before.
Coach: Andrey Kuzin
Captain: Alena Mikhaltsova
Twitter handle: @RugbyRussia
RWC Sevens best result: Quarter-finalists 2013
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 6
Two semi-finals and a fifth-place finish in the first three rounds of the 2018 series saw Russia lying third and seemingly on course for their best-ever finish, but they fell away with 10th their highest ranking in the remaining two rounds. Russia, hosts of the last RWC Sevens in 2013, will therefore hope to recapture that earlier form if they are to improve on a top eight finish in Moscow. Captain Alena Mikhaltsova is the heartbeat of the Russian side and they are a shadow of themselves without her. She has the vision, drive and pace to turn something into nothing, collecting two DHL Impact Player awards and finishing as top try-scorer with 11 in Kitakyushu. Baizat Khamidova’s physicality helps Russia to win plenty of turnover ball at the breakdown to allow Mikhaltsova and others to turn into tries.
Coach: Paul Delport
Captain: Zintle Mpupha
Nickname: Springbok Women’s Sevens
Twitter handle: @WomenBoks
RWC Sevens best result: Semi-finalists 2009
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 13
Semi-finalists in the inaugural RWC Sevens women's competition in 2009, South Africa have enjoyed mixed fortunes since and have suffered heartbreak in the series qualifier final in Hong Kong for the last two years, losing to Japan in 2017 and China this April. With former Blitzbok Paul Delport now at the helm and with experience of playing at RWC Sevens 2009 himself, South Africa will hope to finish a busy season on a high in San Francisco, having also played in Dubai and at the inaugural Commonwealth Games. The Springbok Women’s Sevens qualified for RWC Sevens as African champions in 2017, a title they lost to Kenya this year, and will look to the experience of playmaker Zenay Jordaan and Mathrin Simmers and the pace of Nadine Roos to spark their attack at AT&T Park.
Coach: Pedro de Matías
Captain: Bárbara Plà
Nickname: Las Leonas
Twitter handle: @FERugby
RWC Sevens best result: Semi-finalists 2013
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 7
Spain, under the guidance of new coach Pedro de Matías, have been a team on the rise in 2018 with a first semi-final since the inaugural series event in Dubai in 2012 secured in Kitakyushu in April. They ended Olympic champions Australia’s 14-match unbeaten start to the season in the Japanese round, a side they had also beaten on their run to the RWC Sevens semi-finals in 2013. That placing ensured Spain qualified automatically for the 2018 edition, allowing them time to focus on adding consistency to their game as four quarter-finals in five rounds this season has shown. With Patricia García, a member of the HSBC Dream Team for the 2018 series, controlling the tempo and providing the spark when needed, alongside veterans Marina Bravo and captain Bárbara Plà, Spain will be looking to replicate their placing in Moscow to cap a fine season.
Coach: Richie Walker
Captain: Nicole Heavirland
Nickname: Women’s Sevens Eagles
Twitter handle: @USARugby
RWC Sevens best result: Semi-finalists 2009 and 2013
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 5
The pressure will be on USA as tournament hosts with expectations high for a first-ever RWC Sevens final appearance, something they will have to achieve without former captain Alev Kelter, a player with nerves of steel and a huge work-rate that inspires those around her, after she was ruled out through injury on Tuesday. Finalists twice when the world series has visited USA soil, Richie Walker will look for his side to combine their athleticism and power to create space for speedsters Naya Tapper and Kristen Thomas to score the tries to keep them in the running for a first global title. USA finished fifth on the 2018 series, the highlight undoubtedly making the final in the season opener in Dubai last November, and if they can harness the home support and handle the weight of expectation then bettering their two previous semi-final appearances would be a perfect way to end the season at AT&T Park.