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DUBAI, UAE – While many a Dubai rugby fan may not be too familiar with women’s rugby, the first-ever IRB-sanctioned women’s tournament at the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens promises to be a scorcher, with the women’s game having developed and grown at a remarkable rate.

Heading the line-up of teams that will be competing in Dubai are the reigning Rugby World Cup Sevens champions Australia, who will be led by captain Rebecca Tavo, while providing an intense level of competition will be the likes of England, Canada, USA and South Africa.

Tavo was part of the squad that lifted that trophy in Dubai in 2009 but knows there is a tough task ahead if her side is to repeat that feat. “I know England will be out for revenge. We had to play them in the quarter-final in 2009. They are a very fit and strong team, and probably our biggest competition,” said Tavo.

“Obviously the US and Canada have gifted and aggressive athletes. China has improved so much. Their forwards were bigger than ours and they have one or two sprinters that just missed out on Olympic selection. Although I bet the surprise package will be South Africa. Just like their men’s side, they’re fast, agile, skillful and smart. We have to be very wary of them,” added Tavo.

Australia have been grouped together with Canada, Spain and Brazil in Pool A, while Pool B is made up of the USA, England, South Africa and China.

All the participating teams are relishing the opportunity to participate at the highest level in Dubai. Captain of the South African side Mandisa Williams said: “Without a doubt, this is one of the most important tournaments for the development of the game, particularly as the standard of the competition is so good.”

Spanish captain Isabel Rodrigues agreed, saying: “Women’s rugby is a growing sport with few opportunities to play so this tournament is another important step to take women’s rugby forward.”

First up in the Dubai tournament will be USA v South Africa at 11.20am on Friday, 2nd December. They’ll be followed by England v China at 11.42am, while Australia get their campaign under way against Spain at 12.18pm, followed by Canada v Brazil at 12.40pm.

Captain of the USA side, Beth Black expressed similar sentiments to the other international captains, pointing out that the Dubai crowds can expect a high level of competition come next weekend. “Any time you get this amount of support we have to be thankful and make certain that we raise the level of expectations. When we do this, then more support will follow,” she said.

“You only improve as a team by competing against other teams at the highest level. This gives all nations with a competitive women’s Sevens team the opportunity to prepare and challenge for a spot at the Olympics,” added Australia’s Debby Hodgkinson of the ultimate prize the teams are all working towards – Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.