A Japanese princess, a Samurai and the Kitakyushu city mascot Traccha joined the 12 captains at Kokura Castle on Thursday to officially launch the inaugural HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan.
With Japan captain Mio Yamanaka also bringing gifts for her fellow captains, the atmosphere was one of fun ahead of the fourth round of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series 2016-17 this weekend .
New Zealand may lead the series, but Australia captain Shannon Parry is hoping a blend of youth and experience, plus plenty of hard work, can see the Olympic champions claim their first title of the season after twice losing gold medal matches to the Black Ferns.
“We have got a young squad come on deck but they have been training hard at home, they are on the big stage here and we have a great location here in Japan and can't wait to get onto the field on Saturday,” insisted Parry, whose side sit six points behind New Zealand.
“We have been Cup-hunting all season long, we have been this close but the Kiwis have pipped us every time. For us we have been back home for a good four to six weeks, at the drawing board and have got our game plan on point this week.
“I definitely think you have to be critical with your execution, that is something we have been missing, whether our execution in attack or in defence. For us it has been a strong focus on that at home and we have been working hard so hopefully it pays off in Japan.”
For England captain Abbie Brown, the return of Katy Mclean, Heather Fisher and Amy Wilson-Hardy to the squad for the first ever women's series round in Japan is one that could provide a springboard back to the Cup quarter-finals, having lost the Challenge Trophy final to finish 10th in both Sydney and Las Vegas.
“We have got a few other players come up, they've integrated well into our team and are really pushing it on to this tournament. We are all really excited to be here, especially on the back of a couple of results we are not too happy with, so it has been a work in progress and they have definitely fitted in well,” she said.
“I think we have just got to keep working hard, working on our principles and doing what we have been doing for the rest of the season. We have been pushing ourselves and new players coming in, it is a work in progress and it is not the finished article but we are looking good at the moment and hopefully we'll prove that on the pitch.”
At the halfway stage of the season, England currently sit outside the four qualifying places available through the series for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco, something Brown hopes will change over the next two months.
“The biggest thing this year is for us to qualify for the World Cup and that is something we are looking at. It is going to be in the back of our minds, but you have to take it game by game and first up we have Canada, which is going to be a big test as they have been playing really well all season, but hopefully at the end of the year we will come up with that qualification.”
Only two weeks have passed since hosts Japan ensured they will be on the 2017-18 series as a core team by winning the qualifier in Hong Kong, and Yamanaka and the rest of the Sakura Sevens are eager to test themselves against the world's best teams in preparation for that return, starting with the Black Ferns Sevens on Saturday.
“We would like to show what we have and how we played in Hong Kong to qualify for the series,” she said. “We would like to challenge the best teams in the world. The other teams in our pool are faster and more physical than us, therefore we will try to keep attacking for as long as we can, and would like to beat them.”
The action gets underway at the new Mikuni World Stadium at 10:30 local time (GMT +9) on Saturday with the Pool C match between Spain and USA.