The pools and match schedule have been announced for the first ever round of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Japan, the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens on 22-23 April.
The 11 core teams will be joined by invitation team Japan for the fourth round of the 2016-17 series at the new Mikuni World Stadium in Kitakyushu.
Japan are currently preparing for the 2017-18 series qualifier in Hong Kong next month and will hope to welcome the teams to Kitakyushu with their core team place secured for next season.
The Sakura Sevens will face series leaders New Zealand, the winners in Dubai and Las Vegas, as well as Russia and France in Pool A.
Olympic champions Australia, who have twice finished as runners-up this season, will face some familiar opponents in Pool B with the much-improved Fiji, Ireland and Brazil awaiting them.
Pool C also has a mouth-watering look to it with another battle between North American rivals Canada and USA, the sides having met in the Sydney final and the bronze medal match in Las Vegas.
Spain, the HSBC USA Sevens Challenge Trophy winners, and England complete Pool C with Las Leonas given the honour of opening the tournament against USA.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “We are delighted that the world’s top women’s sevens players will be competing in Japan for the first time. Rugby sevens continues to go from strength to strength as reflected at a game-changing Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where Japan’s men finished a superb fourth.
“The Kitakyushu Sevens comes at an exciting time for rugby in Japan. Rugby World Cup 2019 is less than two and a half years away, while the sport has never enjoyed such popularity with record participation and fan-base growth. I would urge all sports fans in the area to go and experience the excitement of world-class international sevens.”