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Captains from the 12 competing teams came together at the Shinozaki Hachiman Shrine in Kitakyushu, Japan, on Thursday, as the countdown continued to the fourth round of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series 2019 this weekend.
While at the Shrine they had the chance to experience some Japanese culture during the visit with Sakura Sevens captain Chiharu Nakamura showing her counterparts how to make a wish and then encouraging them to get their fortune told, translating the meaning to them afterwards.
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.
New Zealand are also on the verge of setting a new record for consecutive victories on the series, arriving in Japan one win shy of their own benchmark of 37 consecutive wins set between April 2014 and May 2015.
Captain Sarah Hirini said: “That [run] is quite crazy, I didn't actually know about it until the other day. For us we haven't really talked about that, we have only talked about us and making sure that we are continually putting out good performances because that is what is important for us. Obviously, we hope that success comes with that but we have been working really hard since Sydney to make sure that we are continuing to lift our game and make sure that rugby as a whole is continuing to improve because that is probably the most important thing for us.”
The Black Ferns Sevens will face France – who they beat in last year's Cup final – as well as Russia and host nation Japan, the invitational team in Kitakyushu, in Pool A.
Pool B sees Australia and Canada, currently tied on 46 points in the series standings, paired with Spain and China.
Canada captain Ghislaine Landry, who will play in her 30th series tournament this weekend, is hoping that Kitakyushu is somewhat kinder to her team this year after they failed to reach the Cup quarter-finals for the first time in series history in 2018.
“Last year was tough and a situation we had never been in but this is a different season, we're playing different rugby and for us that was just a little blip in the road. We are excited to be here, we did really well the previous year [runners-up]. It doesn't matter what country we are in or what tournament it is, we are looking to do our best. Last year that wasn't the case but we are looking to put that right.
“It is a tight race and the level of the series is so good right now that we know that every game matters, every tournament matters and we are looking to get as many points as we can.”
USA, meanwhile, will face Ireland, Fiji and England in Pool C.
Ireland captain Lucy Mulhall said: “We were happy with making the semi-finals for the first time [in Sydney] but then ending on a loss kind of gave us the fire in our belly to improve and really come back in this tournament and finish it off and be a bit more consistent this time. It is all about day one for us though, to begin with, we can't look past it and we can't take for granted a top-eight spot because we have a really tough group.”
The top four teams in the 2019 series will book their tickets to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, joining already qualified Japan as the host nation, and avoid having to negotiate the regional qualifiers or global repechage tournament.
New Zealand currently lead the way with a perfect 60 points, followed by USA (48), Canada and Australia (both 46) with France (32), Ireland (30) and Russia (28) all hoping to close the gap between themselves and the top four with a strong tournament in Kitakyushu this weekend.
For Sharni Williams, who co-captained Australia to Olympic gold at Rio 2016, simply being in Japan is ramming it home that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are little more than a year away.
“There is such excitement around here,” she said. "Flying into Tokyo was really cool with the hype of the World Cup and then seeing Tokyo 2020 and the mascots and Olympic stuff going up it is really starting to shape and people are talking about it a lot more.
“Olympic qualification is massive and that is the bigger picture, we definitely want to be in the top four because it's a lot easier path and that is what we are chasing ... we are chasing to stay in there.”
The action gets underway at Mikuni World Stadium at 10:30 local time (GMT+9) on Saturday with Ireland taking on Fiji.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/PACNEWS
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