Women's Eagles Sevens: Clermont-Ferrand 2017 preview

CLERMONT-FERRAND, France - The fifth HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series comes to an end June 24-25 with the 26th-ever tournament - and second to be held in France - HSBC Clermont-Ferrand Sevens.

New Zealand has all but shored up a fourth Series title, needing an eighth-place finish or better at State Gabriel Montpied to fend off challengers Australia and Canada. The second- and third-place nations are safe in the top three with Russia, Fiji, and the U.S. more than 20 points behind in the Series Standings.

Apart from the title on the line, all but four of the 12 teams competing are fighting for places at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018, which will be held in San Francisco next year. Richie Walker's Women's Eagles Sevens, as well as Canada, New Zealand, and Spain, are already qualified by virtue of their placings at the 2013 World Cup in Moscow.

The sixth and final round of the 2016-17 Series will be broadcast live at no cost to viewers in the United States on The Rugby Channel.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Since joining the Series lineup for the 2014-15 season, HSBC Canada Sevens has been one of the most well-attended events on the circuit. Last month's was no different, as the home of the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games bronze medalist flocked to Westhills Stadium to support not only the team wearing red, but all of the women's participants through the Canada-New Zealand Cup Final.

Several Eagles downed by injury in the earlier rounds of the season were healthy enough to start the penultimate leg as the Eagles took the field against England, and found their legs in a tight game. One player getting her first match time with the National Team since Rio, Jessica Javelet, combined with Cheta Emba to set up Kristen Thomas for a hat trick of tries in a 21-19 win to open pool play.

It was a good warm-up for what would be the Eagles' toughest match of the weekend against eventual tournament champion New Zealand. The two remained scoreless after seven minutes thanks to a try-saving chase and tackle early by Thomas, though the Eagles held territorial superiority. The Kiwis broke the deadlock two minutes into the second frame and held on for the 7-0 victory before the Eagles took out their frustrations on a hapless Netherlands side, 57-0, for the U.S.'s second-highest all-time margin of victory on the Series.

As second seed out of Pool A, the Eagles were matched up with Pool C-topper Australia in the Cup Quarterfinals. While the U.S. had been comfortable with ball in hand on Day One at Westhills Stadium, the Rio gold medalist was on a mission to climb the rankings, and rebounded from an early Naya Tapper try to go up, 22-5, before Thomas scored her fifth try of the tournament for the 22-10 final.

WHERE THE EAGLES FLY

The Eagles performed the double against England with a Fifth-Place Semifinal win, though it would be the last celebration of the weekend for the team. Despite losing twice in pool play, Russia found its way to the Fifth-Place Final with a Semifinal shutout of Ireland and increased its lead over the United States in the standings with a sudden-death defeat of Walker's side in the last knockout match.

Fiji barely kept its fifth-place spot in the standings even though it only won two of its five games on the weekend. With a top-four finish still in the team's sights, Walker has handed three players Series debuts for the final round in France. The total number of American "rookies" on the circuit this year will reach 17 after Sylvia Braaten, Sarah Buonopane, Kayla Canett, Emba, Jordan Gray, Atumata Hingano, Bulou Mataitoga, Samantha Pankey, Hope Rogers, Megan Sanders, Nicole Snyder, Kristine Sommer, Kelsi Stockert, and Nicole Strasko earned selections in five tournaments.


USA's roster for final round of Series


Hingano retains a spot in the 12-player squad for Clermont-Ferrand, with Lindenwood University All-American Natalie Kosko and capped XVs Eagles Tess Feury and Sara Parsons ready for their first trials on the international circuit. American Rugby Pro Training Center's Ashley Perry also returns to the National Team for the first time since making her debut in Brazil in 2016.

Ryan Carlyle is available for the first time since sustaining an injury playing XVs in the Can-Am Series at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in the spring. Nicole Heavirland has assumed the captain's role within the squad in her eighth career tournament, and is one of four Eagles - along with Joanne Fa'avesi and team-leading points-scorers Alev Kelter (111) and Naya Tapper (130) - to have been selected for all six rounds of the season.

FLIGHT PLAN

The Eagles will open Pool A play Saturday with their fifth match of the season against Ireland, which had its best showing of the campaign last month in Canada. In its second year back as a core team on the circuit, Ireland is on the outside looking in for a spot at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018, trailing France by 18 points. Only a Cup win at Stade Gabriel Montpied and a last-place finish by the home nation - as well as a sixth-or-worse finish by eighth-place England - would see Ireland book a ticket to San Francisco.


RWC7s ticketing information


As the invited team in France, Japan will face an uphill battle in Pool A, starting with a match against New Zealand before taking on the Eagles. The two have not met since a U.S. victory on home soil last year, months before Japan was stripped of its core status. At HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens, Japan dropped all five of its matchups.

With only one debutant and 99 combined Series appearances, the New Zealand roster for the weekend has but one goal in mind: win the Series. Having placed second last year following three consecutive titles, the Kiwis have won all four of the Cup Finals in which they have participated this season. The Eagles kept New Zealand from the Sydney Final with a Cup Semifinal victory. In four matches dating back to the Olympics, the teams have not been separated by more than seven points at the full-time whistle.

SCREAMING EAGLES

HSBC Clermont-Ferrand Sevens will open with the Eagles against Ireland at 6 a.m. ET Saturday before the U.S. faces Japan at 8:44 a.m. and New Zealand at 11:50 a.m. All 34 matches of the final round of the 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series is being broadcast live on The Rugby Channel at no cost to viewers.

Women's Eagles Sevens | HSBC Clermont-Ferrand Sevens
1. Cheta Emba
2. Joanne Fa'avesi
3. Sara Parsons
4. Nicole Heavirland (C)
5. Ryan Carlyle
6. Mata Hingano
7. Jessica Javelet
8. Ashley Perry
9. Natalie Kosko
10. Tess Feury
11. Alev Kelter
12. Naya Tapper

Women's Eagles Sevens | HSBC Clermont-Ferrand Sevens
v. Ireland - Saturday, June 24 @ 6 a.m. ET
v. Japan - Saturday, June 24 @ 8:44 a.m. ET
v. New Zealand - Saturday, June 24 @ 11:50 a.m. ET