Gayle Broughton will wear the Black Ferns Sevens jersey for the first time since the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as one of four changes to the New Zealand squad for the HSBC Clermont-Ferrand Sevens in France on 24-25 June.
The Black Ferns Sevens hold a 14-point cushion over Canada and Australia in the standings going into the final round of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2016-17, meaning that a finish of seventh or higher will see them clinch a fourth series title in five seasons.
New Zealand, who have won four of the five rounds this season, have never finished lower than fifth in the series and then only that low in two of the 25 rounds played to date.
Terina Te Tamaki returns after missing the Las Vegas and Kitakyushu rounds, while Tayla Reti is named in a squad for the first time after impressing coach Allan Bunting since she started playing sevens after being discovered through the Go For Gold talent identification programme. Tenika Willison will travel to France as a reserve, along with Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga.
“France is another opportunity to be build our foundations for the next few years preparing for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020,” said Bunting. “We are focused on fronting every challenge, being courageous, expressing ourselves and making the most of every opportunity. We have a purpose of leaving mana in France.
“With a number of experienced players preparing for the 15s Women’s World Cup, Clermont-Ferrand provides another chance to give other players experience at the next level. Tayla Reti has only been in our environment a short time but has shown real determination and courage to learn and grow at every opportunity and has earnt her chance to wear the black jersey.
“With the Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup next year it is important that we continue to develop depth and foundations in our squad.”
The Black Ferns will face Sydney runners-up USA, Ireland and Japan in Pool A at Stade Gabriel Montpied.
“Day one will be a tough one. Our immediate focus is our first game against a very fit and determined Japan. Ireland is improving fast and had a very strong tournament in Canada and USA can beat anyone when they get things right.”
New Zealand squad: Tyla Nathan-Wong (captain), Shakira Baker, Michaela Blyde, Gayle Broughton, Jess Drummond, Crystal Mayes, Tayla Reti, Alena Saili, Terina Te Tamaki, Ruby Tui, Kat Whata-Simpkins, Niall Williams.
Travelling reserves: Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga, Tenika Willison
DOUBLE FOCUS FOR IRELAND
Ireland have named a squad of 14 to contest both the opening round of the Rugby Europe Women's Grand Prix Sevens Series in Malemort this weekend and the final round of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series in Clermont-Ferrand on 24-25 June.
Malemort is the first of two stops on the Rugby Europe series which will determine the region's two qualifiers for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco next July, the second behind in the Russian city of Kazan on 8-9 July.
Ireland are seeking to join automatic qualifiers Spain – as RWC Sevens 2013 semi-finalists – and Russia, who have now secured their place through the 2016-17 world series. France and England are in contention to join Russia as one of the four top ranked team outside New Zealand, Canada, Spain and USA on the series with the French holding a 10-point cushion of the Red Roses going into the final round in Clermont-Ferrand.
Anthony Eddy, the IRFU Director of Women's and Sevens Rugby, has kept faith with the 12 players who finished seventh in Langford last month and added Megan Williams and Anna McGann to the squad for the two tournaments on French soil.
Ireland will face England Italy and Portugal in Pool C at the Rugby Europe event and then tackle series leaders New Zealand, USA and Japan in Pool A at the HSBC Clermont-Ferrand Sevens.
"We have a busy two weeks ahead of us in France, with two big tournaments coming up," said Eddy. "The Grand Prix Series will be very important for us this season as we look to secure a place at next year's World Cup. Our focus is very much on Malemort this weekend, and although the last stage of the world series is just around the corner in Clermont, it's very much about getting the Grand Prix off to a good start."
Ireland squad: Ashleigh Baxter, Chloe Blackmore, Kim Flood, Stacey Flood, Louise Galvin, Katie Heffernan, Claire Keohane, Amee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe, Sene Naoupu, Audrey O'Flynn, Hannah Tyrrell, Lucy Mulhall (captain), Megan Williams, Anna McGann.