Picture: World Rugby
Following a historic weekend of women’s rugby sevens at the Commonwealth Games and just six days later, the 12 women’s teams are back in action 4500 miles away from the Gold Coast, in Kitakyushu, Japan.
At the Commonwealth Games, the Black Ferns won Gold in the most dramatic fashion after an extra-time thriller against their fiercest rivals Australia. It was the perfect revenge for the loss in the Olympic final two years ago. The stage is set for another fascinating contest between those two 7s powerhouses.
The Aussie 7s girls are currently 10 points ahead of New Zealand, Canada and Russia in the table and the Japan leg is a crucial one in terms of the last two tournaments after this weekend. Can Australia set themselves apart or will the race be wide open following Sunday’s final? Loads of exciting questions to be answered.
The Kitakyushu Sevens takes place at the Mikuni World Stadium (Capacity 15,000) on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st of April.
The matches kick-off Saturday 10:30 (02:30 UK time) and Sunday at 10:30 local time (02:30 UK time).
For a full fixture list click here.
In the UK Sky Sports will cover the tournament on Sunday. For a full TV guide click here, for any other country check out this handy guide.
The Aussies are leading the table but had to concede a painful defeat at the Commonwealth Games last weekend. In addition, they are missing their star-trio Charlotte Caslick, Sharni Williams and Ellia Green. Although the team has a lot of quality in their squad, competing without those three makes things much harder.
This shall give New Zealand even more confidence to go all the way and bag the 20 valuable points by winning the first series tournament this year. England also played a strong tournament in Australia last weekend, winning Bronze in the final against Canada. Can they cause another upset?
One of the reason for England’s good form is Jess Breach. She scored nine tries in Sydney and is the one to watch in Kitakyushu!
Women's World Sevens Series | Standings
Women's World Sevens Series | Fixtures Kitakyushu
Text, Picture and Video: World Rugby
It may have been the lowest scoring final in HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series history, but Canada's 7-5 victory over England in the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens final was a nail-biting encounter that was only settled with the final kick of the game at Mikuni World Stadium on Sunday.
Twelve months ago France reached their first-ever Cup final on the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series and on Saturday they created another piece of history at the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens with a maiden victory over New Zealand at the 22nd attempt.
Text, Pictures and Video: World Rugby
New Zealand finished the pool stages as the only unbeaten team at the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens after Spain beat Australia for the first time in five years and China reached a first-ever Cup quarter-final.
New Zealand were the only unbeaten team on a day of upsets at the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan on Saturday with Spain and Fiji joining them in the Cup quarter-finals as pool winners.
The Black Ferns Sevens will now face first-time Cup quarter-finalists China in the opening match on Sunday at 10:30 local time (GMT+9) after the Chinese marked their return to the series for the first time since 2014-15 with a 24-12 win over Ireland to finish as the best third-placed team across the three pools.
Spain became the first team to beat Olympic champions Australia in the 2018 series, ending their run of 14 consecutive victories after an impressive fight-back was completed by Maria Ribera's last-gasp try for a 17-14 win in the Pool A decider.
That loss means that Australia will face Fiji in a mouth-watering Cup quarter-final after the Pacific Islanders recovered from an opening defeat to Canada to beat both Russia and England to top Pool A and reach the quarter-finals for the first time this season.
Russia and England still advanced to the quarter-finals – where they will face France and Spain respectively – but Canada miss out for the first time in series history and will instead play Ireland in the Challenge Trophy.
They will be joined in that competition by neighbours USA, who were set to advance to the quarter-finals as one of the best third-placed teams until they conceded a third try against Japan at the death, a score that meant England guaranteed a top-eight finish. USA will now face Japan again in the other Challenge Trophy semi-final.
Kitakyushu | Results Day 1
Kitakyushu | Fixtures Day 2
New Zealand were popular winners with the Japanese crowd after the world champions beat first-time Cup finalists France 24-12 to complete a successful defence of the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens title on Sunday.
The two teams had met in the final match of day one with the Black Ferns Sevens running out convincing 38-7 winners at the Mikuni World Stadium, but the final was a much closer affair and only settled after late scores by Portia Woodman and HSBC Player of the Final Tyla Nathan-Wong.
New Zealand had lost Niall Williams to injury before the final but they made the perfect start with Michaela Blyde scoring in the opening minute. However, France regrouped and some good link play between captain Fanny Horta and Marjorie Mayans down the left created an opportunity they were unable to turn into the points due to the pace of Woodman.
Les Bleues did draw level after a period of possession with some quick hands allowing Camille Grassineau to touch down under the posts, but New Zealand edged ahead once more when Theresa Fitzpatrick broke through to score on the stroke of half-time to make it 12-7.
New Zealand lost Gayle Broughton to the sin-bin early in the second half and in her absence France struck once again through Montserrat Amedee, failing to take the lead for the first time after Jade Le Pesq was unable to add the conversion. The next score would be crucial and it arrived in a familiar fashion, Woodman receiving the ball out wide and her burst of acceleration enough to take her around the French defender and away for the try, leaving Nathan-Wong to make certain of the win with their fourth try.
RE:LIVE: The speedster @PortiaWoodman scores a crucial try in the final of the #Kitakyushu7s to help her side to their second tournament win in Kitakyushu @DHLRugby pic.twitter.com/pyg62wxf9m— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) April 22, 2018
RE:LIVE: The speedster @PortiaWoodman scores a crucial try in the final of the #Kitakyushu7s to help her side to their second tournament win in Kitakyushu @DHLRugby pic.twitter.com/pyg62wxf9m
"There were some massive plays there, the girls really stepped up. We have had a couple of injuries over the last few weeks and to come away with back-to-back golds is pretty special and I can't wait to get home and celebrate with our families," said New Zealand captain Sarah Goss afterwards.
Coach Allan Bunting added: "It is pretty special, we always want to do well and then to do really well at the Commonwealth Games and to back it up here is really satisfying. I think the last couple of weeks we have done a lot of learning and growing and we have got some really good foundations in our programme and those foundations are building towards Tokyo which is great.
The victory sees New Zealand cut Australia's lead in the standings to six points with two rounds to go in Langford and Paris. Russia are a further eight points adrift on 42 after finishing fifth, while France's runners-up finish means they now sit fourth with 40 points with Canada and Spain completing the top six with 32 points.
Kitakyushu | Results Day 2
World Sevens Series | Standings
Picture & Text: World Rugby
The new Mikuni World Stadium proved a fitting stage for the world's best women's sevens players to perform on and New Zealand, Australia, and Canada rose to the occasion to finish top of their respective pools at the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens.
Olympic champions Australia will now face France in the first Cup quarter-final on Sunday, before Sydney winners Canada tackle Russia, Fiji takes on USA and series leaders New Zealand meets England for a place in the last four.
In the three pool decides it was the higher ranked team that came out on top, but not without a real battle.
Canada once again emerged victorious in the North American rivalry with USA, captain Ghislaine Landry scoring twice – just as she did in their bronze medal victory in Las Vegas last month – to take her tally to 90 series tries. The sides had been separated by only two points at half-time before Canada broke clear with three unanswered tries to win 29-12 to top Pool C.
Australia then had their Fijian-born flyer Ellia Green to thank for a strong start against familiar opponents in the Pool B decider, scoring twice for a 12-0 half-time lead for the series champions. Fijiana, so impressive against Ireland and Brazil, couldn't find a way through until the final few minutes when tries by Miriama Naiobasali and captain Ana Maria Roqica had Australia hanging on for a 17-12 win to preserve their perfect record.
New Zealand had suffered a huge scare against France in their second match, but the Dubai and Las Vegas champions regrouped and finished the day with a 22-7 win over Russia to confirm top spot in Pool A, Portia Woodman crossing for two tries to take her total to 138 in series history.
Brazil missed out on a first Cup quarter-final appearance of the season on points difference and will instead face Ireland again, having beaten them 27-10 in their final Pool B match, in the Challenge Trophy semi-finals on Sunday. The other semi-final pits Spain against hosts Japan.
The action continues on Sunday with kick-off at 10:30 local time (GMT +9) with the Cup quarter-finals.
Kitakyushu 7s | Results Day 1
New Zealand increased their lead at the top of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series standings to 10 points after an enthralling 17-14 victory over Canada in the final of the inaugural HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan on Sunday.
The Black Ferns twice had to come from behind in the title decider and only hit the front when Michaela Blyde was worked over in the right corner with time up on the clock, sparking wild celebrations on the New Zealand bench.
In only their third meeting in a Cup final – and first since Atlanta in 2014 – it was Canada who went into the final arguably as favourites having enjoyed record wins over both Russia and Australia en route to the final, scoring 74 points and conceding none.
Canada thought they had opened the scoring through Jennifer Kish, but she lost control of the ball as she went over the line following a tackle from Blyde. However, it wasn't long before Hannah Darling raced away and, despite being tap-tackled by Portia Woodman, managed to touch down for a 7-0 lead.
A moment of magic from Niall Williams, where she scooped up a pass from Canada captain Ghislaine Landry and then raced away to score under the posts, ensured the teams went into half-time locked at 7-7 after Tyla Nathan-Wong's conversion.
Kish then edged Canada ahead once more, but only briefly as Woodman, who was named HSBC Player of the Final, raced the length of the pitch to score her seventh try of the tournament.
Nathan-Wong failed to add the conversion from out wide and so New Zealand had to score again if they were to win a third title of the season after their victories in Dubai and Las Vegas.
Fortunately for them, Kish fumbled the restart and the Black Ferns kept their composure before working the ball out for this season's top try-scorer Blyde to find a way over in the corner.
“It was close, Canada are an awesome team,” admitted New Zealand captain Sarah Goss. “The way the girls showed so much fight I am just really proud to have such an awesome group of girls around me. We train like that, we train when we’re down and know as long as there are minutes on the clock we know we have the X-factor to pull out winners like that.”
Coach Allan Bunting added: “We definitely saved the best until last in this tournament. We played with a lot of heart and character and you can't ask for much more, it was outstanding and I am really stoked for the girls and very proud. For us it was about playing longer and stronger, Canada are a really clinical team, they have been pretty consistent over the last few years so you have to play long and play well.
“I had no doubt, I knew the ladies were going to play right to the end so until that final whistle went there was a chance.”
The fifth and penultimate round of the 2016-17 series takes place in Langford, Canada, on 27-28 May.
Kitakyushu 7s | Results Day 2
HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series | Standings
Introduction, Pictures & Videos via World Rugby
More than two months have passed since New Zealand won the last round in Sydney and the Black Ferns Sevens will be bidding to win the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens for the third year in a row.
The first ever HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series round to be played in Japan is the fourth stop on the 2016-17 series with New Zealand, winners in Dubai and Las Vegas, leading the way with 56 points, six more than Olympic champions Australia with Canada a further four points adrift.
Fifteen players are in line for their series debuts in Kitakyushu, six of them for hosts Japan who field a squad with only 31 tournaments between them as they prepare to test themselves against the world's best teams ahead of their return to the series as a core team in 2017-18.
Contrast that to Sydney winners Canada who, with 146 tournaments, boast the most experienced squad, followed by Australia (136) and New Zealand (134).
All three teams have only made minimal changes to their squads since Las Vegas last month when they shared the podium.
Australia coach Tim Walsh has left his co-captain Sharni Williams at home and opted to give young players such as Youth Olympic Games gold medallist Dominique du Toit an opportunity to shine in the series, while the Black Ferns Sevens welcome back Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga, their two-try scorer from the Dubai gold medal match.
Canada has lost the services of Kayla Moleschi for the rest of the series through injury, but the blow is softened by being able to recall an experienced player like Ashley Steacy, who missed the Las Vegas round to attend her sister's wedding.
England, who will open their tournament against Canada, will be hoping that the return of Women's Six Nations Grand Slam winners Katy Mclean, Amy Wilson-Hardy and Sarah McKenna will be the spark to kickstart their season after failing to reach the Cup quarter-finals in both Sydney and Las Vegas. The experienced Heather Fisher also returns after missing the last round through injury.
"This is a far stronger side than we have seen all season and just the injection of those three very experienced players is going to have a massive impact I believe," World Rugby commentator Melodie Robinson said this week. "Katy Mclean is going to come in and just organise them. Their captain Abbie Brown has just needed a little bit of support underneath and she is going to get it, while Amy Wilson-Hardy is an absolute star."
The action gets underway at the Mikuni World Stadium at 10:30 local time (GMT +9) with USA v Spain in Pool C.
Kitakyushu 7s | Fixtures
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