Clermont-Ferrand Sevens: Aussies Series Title To Lose

The Clermont-Ferrand Sevens will be contested in the Auvergne region of France over the weekend, with the series finale of the 2015/2016 HSBC Women’s Sevens Series played at Stade Gabriel-Montpied Saturday and Sunday, 28-29 of May. Australia just needs a sixth placed finish here to win their first ever Women’s Sevens Series title which has been in the hands of the World Champion New Zealand side for the last two seasons.

After claiming three of the four tournaments played so far, the Australian side sits 12 points clear on top of the World Series ladder heading into Clermont-Ferrand tournament, and coach Tim Walsh is confident his girls will be ready to hold up the trophy. Bolstered with the return of Sharni Williams and try scoring machine Elia Green. Captain Williams is determined to put the ‘icing on the cake’.

All teams are using this tournament as their final ‘testing ground’ against World class opponents before they finalize squad selection to the Olympics in August. On paper the Aussie Pearls have the strongest and most likely, their final team here in Clermont but don’t count out the New Zealand (NZ) Sevens Sisters who have recalled ‘the enforcer’ Huriana Manuel, ‘twinkle toed’ Kayla McAlister; whose partnership with speedster Portia Woodman has won the series crown for the NZ side on the last two occasions.

Spain will try to finish higher in the standings then Japan, to retain their core status on the sevens series. Nine points ahead of them currently, a tough ask to overcome their rivals as only the top nine teams from this season will retain their core status and the other two positions will be filled by the top two teams outside the core group, from the Olympic repechage tournament being held in Dublin, Ireland in June.

So it is ‘all to play for’ this weekend, as the Kenyans make their series debut and how that side finishes the tournament this weekend will determine their rankings in Rio. An important opportunity for all sides, but for the Aussie team, it maybe their chance to raise the series trophy and secure the number one ranking–but every other side still has a lot to draw from the results. Here is the Lowdown of what to expect at the Clermont-Ferrand Sevens this weekend.

Clermont-Ferrand Sevens: the LOWDOWN

Pool A (England,Spain,USA, Kenya)

England

The English Rose’s are on a high after they dismantled the Kiwis in Langford to win their first tournament since 2014 and will be trying to spoil the fun for the Aussies as they try to go back-to-back but will be missing Jo Watmore who has been a standout for the Roses all season.

It;s a big weekend for captain Emily Scarratt who loves playing in France, as she was part of the team that claimed the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup there defeating Canada in the final 21-9. She scored 16 points in that game. The tournament will be the last for the English players to impress the Great Britain selectors, to make the final cut to travel to Rio in August.

”It’s everybody’s last opportunity to play against everybody in the world and I think all teams will have put in a huge amount of work in between the last tournament and this one, will be looking to really show what they are really about pre-Olympics” Scarratt told worldrugby.org.

English Rose squad: Claire Allan, Natasha Brennan, Heather Fisher , Emily Scott, Emily Scarratt (c), Amy Wilson Hardy, Kay Wilson, Alice Richardson, Danielle Waterman, Abbie Brown, Natasha Hunt, Katy McLean.

Spain

Los Leonas are using this tournament as their final hit-up before the repechage tournament as they chase that final spot to the Rio Olympics and will be each game as a final as they try to build a good combination with the young and the old with ‘evergreen’ Berta Garcia again leading a side filled with young and old alike but know what is at stake in the next few weeks starting here in Clermont.

”Ours is a happy team, with no stars and with everyone pulling their weight,” Jose Antonio Bario, Spanish coach, speaking to worldrugby.org.

Los Leonas squad: Berta Garcia, Teresa Bueso Gonez, Angela Del Pan, Patricia Garcia, Marina Bravo,Elisabet Martinez Garcia, Iera Echebarria Fernadez, Amaia Erbia Arana, Maria Casado, Vanesa Rial, Lourdes Almeda, Maria Ribera.

United States

USA Head Coach Richie Walker will be trying to blend in the new players he has brought in with the senior players who have retained their spots as this is his last change to find a winning combination against tough competitions as team will go their respective pre-Olympics training camps before Rio.

They will be without the formidable Megan Bonny who misses out due to injury. Also out are Nicole Hejerviland, Katie Zachary, Amelia Bizer and Lauren Doyle but they welcome Kathryn Johnson, Kelly Griffin, Lilly Durbin and Carmen Farmer.

Eagles Womens squad: Jillion Porter, Kathryn Johnson, Kelly Griffin, Carmen Farmer, Bui Baravilala, Lilly Durbin, Kristen Thomas, Richelle Stephens, Victoria Folayan, Leyla Alev Kelter, Jessica Javelet, Ryan Carlyle.

Kenya

Kenya will be trying to make the most of their opportunity this weekend as they debut in the Women’s series and will try to emulate the success their Men’s counterparts did in Singapore.

Kenyan squad: Sinaida Omondi, Janet Okelo, Sheila Chajira, Cathrine Abilla, Irene Otieno, Celestine Masinde, Cynthia Atieno,Rachael Mobongo,Doreen Remour, Janet Owino,Grace Okulu, Stacey Otieno.

Pool B (NZL, Canada, Russia, Japan)

New Zealand

With the return of their superstars in Huriana Manuel and Kayla McAlister, the Kiwi sisters will be out to spoil the party for the Aussies. It will be also worth watching Portia Woodman be given more room todo her finishing touches, as she is back with her preferred midfield combination.

Sarah Goss again leads this group who have had to settle for second (or less) on many occasions, so the Sean Horan coached team must show improvement and LWOS senior editor Scott Hornell placed a focus on that in his article “Last leg in the Sevens Series for New Zealand Sisters”.

New Zealand squad: Ruby Tui, Shakira Baker, Renee Wickliffe, Terina Te Tamaki, Sarah Goss (c) Niall Williams, Kelly Brazier, Huriana Manuel, Kayla McAlister, Portia Woodman, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Katrina Whata.

Canada

Jen Kish will again lead her Maple Leafs sisters as they to finish on a high and a favorable pool in Rio will be the ultimate goal for them. Ghislaine Landry, Megan Lukan, Karen Paquin and Magali Harvey will be their key players this weekend.

Canadian squad: Karen Paquin, Kelly Rusell, Magali Harvey, Jen Kish (c) Megan Lukan, Ghislaine Landry, Kayla Moleschi, Britt Benn, Hannah Darling, Natasha Watcham-Roy, Bianca Farella, Charity Williams.

Russia

Russia have brought in a young side but will be missing the services of their best performer to date Nadezda Kudinova, who is a class of her own.

Russian squad: Anna Minislamova, Daria Lushina, Daria Bokova, Yulia Guzeva, Anna Gavirliyuk, Yulia Ledovskaya, Maria Shemchuk, Anastasia Prokudina, Daria Noritsina, Elena Zdrokova, Oxona Krobchuk, Polina Buravleva.

Japan

Marie Yamaguchi ,the Sakura Sevens top performing athlete will ‘spearhead’ her nations survival on the sevens series, as all is at stake for them. Nine points behind ninth placed Spain, Japan are on the verge of missing out on their core status next season, so must come out firing and maximize any remaining chance they might have in 2016.

Sakura sevens squad: Chiharu Nakamura, Mikako Tomita, Ai Nakamuru, Mio Yamanaka, Maki Takano, Marie Yamaguchi, Ano Kuwai, Chisato Yoko, Kaiko Kato, Aya Takeuchi, Noriko Taniguchi, Kana Mitsugi.

Pool C (Australia, France, Fiji, Ireland)

Australia

The Aussie Pearls are on the verge of their first ever series title win and are bolstered with the return of Sharni Williams and a certain Elia Green, who loves nothing better than to leave players ‘biting the dust’ as she breezes past them. A sixth place finish is all they are aiming for, but performance levels still must be met and this squad have shown a consistency that their men’s side has unfortunately not had.

Captain Williams is determined to put the ‘icing on the cake’ and all players will be keen to not rest on their laurels–in the final tournament of the men’s series, series winners Fiji did not feature in the final, won surprisingly by Scotland, so the Aussie women need to retain their focus.

Aussie Pearls squad: Nicole Beck, Sharni Williams (c) Charlotte Caslick, Emilee Cherry, Evania Pelite, Elia Green, Chloe Dalton, Tiana Penitani, Emma Tongato, Alicia Quirk, Shannon Parry, Amy Turner and 13th player Georgie Friedrichs.

France

Fanny Horta and her Les Tricolores will try to finish on a high at home and will need to give their all, as they chase their first final appearance of this year and their battle with the Aussie Pearls and Fijiana will be one you don’t want to miss.

Les Tricolores squad: Amdee Montserrat, Camille Grassineau, Lina Guerin, Elodie Guiglion, Fanny Horta (c), Shannon Izar, Caroline Ladagnous, Rose Thomas, Chloe Pelle, Christelle le Duff, Jade Le Pesq, Marjorie Mayans,Jessy Tremouliere.

Fiji

The Fijiana girls don’t enjoy the perks or the following that their Men’s counterparts get, but every tournament this ladies team gives it their all as they fight for recognition in their own backyard. Most of them are not fully employed, not contracted players like the men or the NZ girls are. They walk to training at times in the afternoon, not fancy hotels like Ben Ryan’s men during sevens camps, but proudly they fight on.

Chris Cracknell is away with the Men’s team most of the time [assisting and learning his craft] but when he rejoins the girls , some get confused on how to adapt to the game plan he maps out, as Iliesa Tanivula had taught them a different mentality altogether. But this squad take this all in their stride, as the country comes first for them and each will continue to fight for recognition both locally, and abroad.

They compete with teams with huge financial backing and they try their very best to stay with them, and now as they focus on this last round and onto Rio, they will be counting on their countrymen to get behind them. This weekend is another stepping stone on their journey to match the success of the ‘boys’–2015/2016 Men’s Series winners.

Missing from the team with niggling injuries are ‘Women Mountain’ Litia Naiqato, rover/playmaker Lavenia Tinai and speedy Tima Ravisa but gladly they welcome back Brittany Coates and newcomers Ebony Satala and Asena Roko. Rebecca Tavo, Rusila Nagasau, Talica Vodo and captain fantastic Ana Roqica will be spearheading their campaign.

Fijiana Squad: Ebony Satala, Asena Roko,Rebecca Tavo, Ana Maria Roqica (c), Luisa Tisolo, Merewai Cumu, Jiowana Sauto, Viniana Riwai, Talica Vodo, Rusila Nagasau, Miriama Naiobanisali, Brittany Coates.

Ireland

Ireland are going all out and with former Black Ferns trialist Sene Naopu, the Flood Sisters; Stacey and Kim, Lucy Mulhall and Hannah Tyrell will all be vital for them at Stade Gabriel-Montpied, as the Irish girls try to build a good foundation for their repechage campaign in front of eager home fans, in June.

Irish squad: Kim Flood,Stacey Flood, Ashleigh Baxter, Aloife Doyle,Sene Naoupu,LucyMulhall (c),Megan Williams, Hannah Tyrell, Susan Vaughan, Amee Leigh Murphy-Crowe, Alison Miller, Audrey O’Flynn.

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The Women’s Sevens Series is there for the Aussies to lose [near impossible in my eyes] the Kiwis can find redemption with a good result here and the Sakura Sevens (Japan) will try to survive relegation, so it is ‘all to play for’ in Clermont-Ferrand.

The competition kicks off Saturday 28th May – read more here.

Follow all the LOWDOWN of the Clermont-Ferrand Sevens here on Last Word On Sports.

“Main phot credit”


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